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LOCAL > Funeral firm confirms US victim’s heavy wounds as family awaits body

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

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Sierra’s body was found in Sarayburnu, 13 days after she went missing, with evidence of head injuries.  AA photo

Sierra’s body was found in Sarayburnu, 13 days after she went missing, with evidence of head injuries. AA photo

Vercihan Ziflioğlu Vercihan Ziflioğlu vercihan.ziflioglu@hurriyet.com.tr

Sarai Sierra, a New York City woman found dead in Istanbul while on a vacation, had suffered serious wounds to her head and face, the local funeral company that is helping to send her remains to the United States has confirmed.

The news matched preliminary reports published in the Turkish press.

Sierra’s body was taken to the morgue of Surp Yerortutyun (Holy Trinity), an Armenian church in central Istanbul, on the evening on Feb. 4.

Manuel Manukyan, owner of the Nevzat funeral company, told the Hürriyet Daily News that he was in contact with the U.S. consulate on the issue and had also informed the family about the costs.

He said he saw the preliminary forensic report before taking the body. Some wounds were clearly seen, he said. “There are serious blows, particularly to her head and face.”

The company is waiting for authorization papers from the U.S., but the timing of the delivery of the body remains unclear, Manukyan said.

Sierra’s parents, Betzaida and Dennis Jimenez, said at a press conference at the home of a family friend on New York’s Staten Island on Feb. 4 that the family’s immediate concern was repatriating Sierra’s body to the U.S.

Sierra’s body was found in Sarayburnu, 13 days after she went missing on Jan. 21. Her jewelry had not been removed, but her tablet computer and smart phone had been stolen. A blanket was found nearby, suggesting Sierra may have been taken from another crime scene to Sarayburnu. Police have been searching for the tablet and the mobile phone with detectors in the surrounding area.

FBI involved

The FBI is playing a significant role in the investigation into the death of Sierra, a U.S. congressman said during the press event. Michael Grimm, a former FBI agent, said U.S. investigators had been invited by Turkish authorities to assist as they try to find out what happened to Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two.

Sierra’s husband, Steven Sierra, and brother David Jimenez, are still in Istanbul after coming last week to aid in the search. Steven Sierra intends to accompany her body back to New York, but the family is still determining how to fund the transport. Their church and friends are working to raise money to help defray the costs, The Associated Press reported.

On Feb. 4, police with sniffer dogs scoured the area where the body was found for clues, it said. According to media reports, a forensic lab will examine samples from Sierra’s fingernails as well as hair and other samples from a blanket found near her body. It said some nail scrapings suggest she may have tried to fight off at least one attacker.

The trip to New York was Sierra’s first trip overseas alone after her childhood friend, Magdalena Rodriguez, backed out. At the news conference in New York, Rodriguez fought back tears as she said she wished she had not changed her plans.

 “I wasn’t working at the time and I didn’t have the money to go,” The Associated Press quoted her as saying.

Family and friends described Sierra as a devoted mother to her 9- and 11-year-old sons who volunteered at their school and worked part time so she would be available for them after school. “Every time I saw her, she was always with her family,” said another longtime friend, Dulce Arroyo.

Arroyo ran across Sierra on a shopping trip two days before she left the U.S. and said traveling alone did not appear to be a frightening prospect. Her friend was looking forward to an exciting adventure and spent most of their conversation talking about the murals and architecture she planned to photograph.

“She was perfectly OK with taking this trip on her own,” Arroyo said. “She was thrilled.”

Body of missing US woman found in Istanbul

Dennis Jimenez said Sierra tried to calm any fears by emphasizing that she would be in regular contact via video calls and text messages.

“I didn’t want her to go, but she wanted to go,” he said. “Turkey was a land rich in architecture and ancient history, and she was very fascinated by that.”

He said she shared her photos online and checked in frequently. “You could tell that she was happy.”

Grimm said Turkish police still had hours of video footage to review as they piece together Sierra’s last movements. A special unit of Turkish police that was set up to locate Sierra has an image of her at Galata Bridge, which spans Istanbul’s Golden Horn waterway and where she went on her last day to take photos.

The trip also included preplanned excursions to Amsterdam and Munich.

Betzaida Jimenez said her two grandsons did not know what happened to their mother. They only know their father went to get her after her vacation, The Associated Press also reported.

February/05/2013

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