Police are struggling to put together the pieces of tragic mystery that stretches from Saudi Arabia, to sleepy Fairfax, Virginia, and finally the shores of the Hudson River in New York City, where the bodies of two young women were discovered, duct-taped together at the waist and ankles, face to face, on Wednesday, October 24th. In addition to being found wearing similar black leggings and black jackets with fur-lined hoods, their resemblance, seen in police sketches released the following day, was uncanny. Last Friday, October 26th, they were identified as Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, sisters from Saudi Arabia by way of Fairfax, Virginia. Nearly a week after their bodies were found, new details about the sisters’ lives have emerged, but police still have few answers about what ultimately ended them, and the medical examiner’s office has yet to determine a cause of death.
Initially, according to the New York Post, investigators thought the sisters may have followed through with a suicide pact, duct-taping themselves together before jumping from the George Washington Bridge in Upper Manhattan; the bodies of previous jumpers had floated down the Hudson and washed ashore in Riverside Park, near where they were found. But the Farea sisters’ bodies showed none of the trauma that would be expected from jumping into the water from such a great height, and little decomposition, suggesting they hadn’t been in the water long.
Investigators have been in touch with the sisters’ mother, who still lives in Fairfax. According to multiple news sources, the woman, who has not been identified, said that on October 23rd, the day before the bodies were found, she was contacted by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and told that the family’s residency in the US was in jeopardy because the sisters had applied for immigration asylum. Investigators are now looking to verify that claim — and whether it might have had anything to do with their deaths.
“We are looking at all clues in their past life,” Shea said.
According to investigators, Rotana, Tala and their mother moved from Saudi Arabia to the United States in 2015, settling in Fairfax, a Washington, D.C. suburb. The sisters’ relationship with their mother had apparent difficulties. According to the New York Times, the woman told investigators that she hadn’t seen her daughters since last December, when she reported them missing to Fairfax police. They were found quickly, but rather than returning home, they asked for “protection,” as the Times put it, and were placed in a shelter instead, with cops refusing to disclose its location to their mother.
According to the Guardian, older sister Rotana was enrolled at George Mason University in Fairfax up until last spring, and left for unspecified reasons; she was still living in an apartment complex in the area until July, but it’s not clear if Tala was living with her. In late-August, their mother filed another missing persons report, for just Tala this time, and the flyer distributed online by Fairfax police indicated she might be with Rotana. According to the Arab News, citing unspecified family members, the Fareas’ mother called off the search when she learned Tala was visiting Rotana in New York, and was in touch with both daughters up until last week. When she stopped being able to reach them, she filed another missing persons report, according to both the Times and the Arab News.
Reached for comment by Rolling Stone, the NYPD said they are “seeking any information in regard to the below described individuals who may have been staying the New York metro area between August 24th, 2018 through October 24th, 2018.”
The Arab News also reports that family members have rejected the theory that the sisters might have killed themselves. The girls’ father, according to the outlet, arrived in New York over the weekend. Saudi Arabia’s consulate general in New York said in a statement posted to Twitter on October 30 that it had “appointed an attorney to follow the case closely,” and that embassy officials in Washington had contacted the family and “extended its support and aid” to the sisters’ family. They also noted that the sisters were “students accompanying their brother in Washington,” referencing a third sibling who, thus far, has not been mentioned in any news reports about the case or the family’s immigration to the United States. The NYPD did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment on the Saudi consulate general’s statement.