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Originally published Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 6:13 PM

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U.S. tourist found dead in Turkey

Sarai Sierra, 33, a mother of two, was last heard from Jan. 21, the day she was to fly home.

The Associated Press


ANKARA, Turkey — A Staten Island, N.Y., woman who went missing while vacationing alone in Istanbul was found dead Saturday, and police were questioning 11 people in connection with the case, Turkey’s state-run news agency said.

Sarai Sierra, 33, a mother of two, was last heard from Jan. 21, the day she was to fly home. Her disappearance attracted a lot of interest in Turkey, where the disappearance of tourists is rare. Istanbul police set up a special unit to find her.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the body of a woman was discovered late Saturday, near the remnants of ancient city walls, and police identified it as Sierra’s.

The agency said she was found with a head wound and a blanket near her body. She was wearing jeans, a sweater and a jacket, and still had her earrings and a bracelet.

Police declined to comment on the case.

Sierra, whose sons are 9 and 11, left for Istanbul Jan. 7 to pursue her photography hobby. She made a side trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Munich, Germany. She had planned to travel with a friend, but ended up going alone when her friend canceled.

She was in regular contact with friends and relatives, and she was last in touch with her family Jan. 21, the day she was due back in New York. She told them she would visit Galata Bridge, which spans Istanbul’s Golden Horn waterway, to take photos.

She chronicled her travels on the social-media outlet Instagram. Her last photo was posted Jan. 20.

Her body was found not far from the bridge and near a major road that runs alongside the sea of Marmara. Here tourists often photograph dozens of tankers waiting to access the Bosporus strait.

The Anadolu report suggested Sierra might have been killed at another location, and her body may have been brought to the site to be hidden there.

At least 11 people were being questioned in Istanbul, Anadolu reported, and a police official said two were women. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not clear if a Turkish man identified only as Taylan, whom Sierra had exchanged emails with during her stay in Istanbul, was among those being questioned. He was detained for questioning Friday, then released. Turkish news reports said Sierra had arranged to meet the man on Galata Bridge, but he reportedly told police the meeting never took place.

When police searched the hostel in the Tarlabasi district where she had rented a room, they found her cellphone, passport and other belongings. As the hunt for Sierra proceeded, 28 officers in the police security-surveillance unit searched through hundreds of hours of video that 260 patrol teams collected from more than 500 street cameras in Istanbul, the Anatolian Agency reported.

Sierra’s husband, Steven, and her brother, David Jimenez, traveled to Istanbul last week to help search for her.

At Staten Island on Saturday, her father, Dennis Jimenez, 59, described her as a hard worker who spent all of her spare time with her sons. She worked part time in a chiropractor’s office and was studying for a bachelor’s degree at the College of Staten Island.

Material from The New York Times is included in this report.