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.


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Notice on comments

david coors

2/8/2013 4:54:34 AM

Mara: Today CNN-Turk says: "FBI agets investigating the case suggest Sarai Sierra may not be as innocent as she looked. New York Post also says there are a lot of questions about Sarai Sierra's murder without answers."

turkic voice

2/7/2013 10:41:14 PM

what a disgrace at lest use some brown shoe polish to fix that coffin

C B Mays

2/6/2013 11:42:01 PM

The first news reports indicated that she was one/half Turkish-whatever that means-but comments section indicates that she was Armenian. I assumed since she was supposed to be part Turkish, she knew the area or had family there. If she was Armenian what was she doing in Istanbul alone? I know that Armenians and Turks are not best friends.Plus a lone woman from any nationality traveling to any large city in these days is not smart. Too many things can happen. It could have happened in New York?

mara mcglothin

2/6/2013 7:37:57 PM

DAVID Just look at the wild conspiracy theories that abound in Turkey! Is there another "Christian" based funeral home in the area?

david coors

2/6/2013 5:42:52 AM

Sarai (sounds like Saray -palace- in Turkish) Sierra was an Armenian American woman. Somehow she had involved in the murder of Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. That is why she came to Turkiye. People of the Armenian churge in Istanbul and real killer(s) of Dink knew about her and her trip who murdered her also. The hearse that picked up her body belongs to that Armenian church.

Eric Martin

2/6/2013 3:34:52 AM

Turkey needs to help pay expenses. Why isn't this being done? It would NOT cost a lot.


2/5/2013 7:57:29 PM

This is truly weird. Since when funeral directors make such statements? Then again, how many are there in Istanbul?

mara mcglothin

2/5/2013 6:17:30 PM

SNPAGE The coroner making a public statement is a huge difference in some funeral director leaking information. A coroner's report is expected in all cases where there has been a crime. Huge difference. This sounds almost like when Whitney Houston died and the funeral director allowed someone to take pictures of the body without the family's permission. I don't think that talking about the victim to the general public is any comfort to the family.

Safiyah Noor Page

2/5/2013 5:17:13 PM

The coroner in Sandy Hook, New Jersey reported much more than this funeral director did so I guess issues of privacy protections should be addressed to US lapses first before criticism is leveled at the Turks. This is unfortunately a high profile case and the news outlets are like dogs locked in a meat locker over the tragic passing of this lady. It is beginning to sound more like a muggling that turned into a murder as the investigation proceeds. Again, may Allah make this easy for the family.

mara mcglothin

2/5/2013 3:21:22 PM

Isn't there any kind of privacy laws in Turkey? How is a funeral director allowed to make public statements about the remains of a body in his care?
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