Authorities have so far uncovered nothing to suggest that two Saudi Arabian sisters whose bodies were found bound on the banks of the Hudson River were victims of foul play, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity.
The case remains steeped in mystery more than a week after the bodies of 22-year-old Rotana Farea and 16-year-old Tala Farea of Fairfax, Virginia, were discovered in upper Manhattan with their feet and waists bound together by duct tape.
Water was found in the sisters’ lungs, the official said, leading investigators to believe they were alive when they entered the water. Police previously said the bodies showed no signs of trauma.
New York Police Department investigators believe the deaths to be suicides, the official said, though detectives are still investigating the circumstances surrounding them.
Still, the NYPD is not ready to officially determine the causes of death. According to NYPD deputy commissioner of public information Phil Walzak, authorities are still actively investigating whether the deaths were the result of suicide, homicide or an accident.
The sisters were Saudi citizens and students accompanying their brother in Washington, according to a statement from the Royal Consulate General of Saudi Arabia. The consulate has been in contact with the sisters’ family and appointed an attorney to follow the investigation.
The law enforcement official told CNN it’s become evident in the course of the investigation that the sisters did not want to return to Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this week The New York Times reported the Saudi Embassy in Washington had called Rotana and Tala’s mother to inform her that her daughters had applied for asylum in the United States.
NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said Wednesday that detectives have been in Virginia conducting interviews with members of the immediate family to shed light on “what was going on in the two young ladies’ lives.”
“We’ve made significant progress in piecing together pieces of this puzzle to find out what happened,” he said.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Tala had been missing from Fairfax since August 24.
A post on the center’s website — which appears to have been taken down — noted that Tala might have been with Rotana.
The sisters also were reported missing more than eight months prior, for one day in December 2017, according to Fairfax County Police.
Officer Tara Gerhard, a spokeswoman for the department, said the sisters were “referred to services, but she could not specify what type of services, nor offer additional details, citing privacy laws.