Police have released the first photographs of two young Saudi Arabian sisters whose bodies were found duct taped together in the Hudson River, New York, last week.
16-year-old Tala Farea and her older sister 22-year-old Rotana Farea, were found washed up together, their bodies bound together with duct tape that was tied around their feet and waists. The pair were found facing each other.
A passerby called 911 at 2.40pm on Wednesday after spotting the two bodies, which were found laying on rocks by the river when police arrived at the scene.
Both sisters had been living together in New York City were Rotana had been studying Computer and Information Technology at the George Mason University in Virginia.
Their mother, Wafa, and father, Abdulsalam, also both lived in Virginia along with their brothers who are 18 and 11 years of age.
The Farea sisters moved from Saudi Arabia to Fairfax, Virginia, in 2015 with their mother, and had a history of running away from home, according to US officials.
In August, the family reported 16-year-old Tala missing after she disappeared from Virginia but the search was called off when they learned she had gone to stay with her sister in New York City.
In December last year, the pair fled to a shelter in Fairfax. The family reported them both missing.
When officers tracked them down, the sisters begged them not to tell the family where they were. What led to them returning home remains a mystery but police are focusing their investigation on the circumstances surrounding it.
But investigators say it remains a “puzzle” as to how they came to be found dead on a riverbank more than 250 miles (400km) from their family’s home.
Tala had recently been awarded a spot at a top private school in Saudi Arabia with a full scholarship but was desperate not to go.
The Saudi Consulate General said in a statement that embassy officials had contacted their family, and added that the sisters were students “accompanying their brother in Washington”.
But New York Police said that the day before their bodies were discovered, their mother received a call from an official at the Saudi embassy ordering the family to leave because the girls had applied for political asylum.
Police had originally theorised that the girls may have jumped from the George Washington Bridge, but ruled that out after finding a lack of obvious injuries which they would have sustained in the fall.
Investigators say it is too early to determine if any crime occurred or if their deaths were caused by suicide.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the city’s chief of detectives said there are some “gaps” in the sisters’ history, which investigators are trying to resolve.
“I’m confident that when the complete investigation is done we’ll have a good idea of what exactly transpired,” said Detective Dermot Shea.