Police officers deal with tragic deaths and accidents all the time, however, their job is particularly challenging when that loss of life involve children or young adults who still had their whole lives ahead of them.
When the bodies of two young girls were discovered washed up along the Hudson River in New York City, police vowed to get to the bottom of the tragic deaths. But when they started asking questions, the investigation took an unexpected turn.
The 911 Call
At 3 p.m. on October 24, 2018, officers from the New York Police Department received a 911 call from a 40-year-old man named Martin Castillo. According to Castillo, he had been riding his electric bike around Riverside Park, which is located in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
A Sickening Discovery
Castillo went on to explain that when he looked over to the rocks on the bank of the Hudson River, he saw the bodies of two young women. “The bodies were on stones. One of them was facing up. She was a woman. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t see how this happened,” Castillo told New York Daily News about the horrific discovery.
Police were immediately sent out to the location. When officers arrived at the scene shortly after, they discovered the two bodies on the bank of the river just as Castillo had described. According to authorities, the two young women were lying face to face with duct tape around their waists.
The Crime Scene
The young women also had duct tape around their feet, but not to each other. They were also found fully clothed. According to the police, they were both wearing black leggings and fur-trimmed jackets. Sadly, both of the women were pronounced dead at the scene.
An Investigation Begins
At that point, police had the bodies of the two young women, who appeared to be in their teens or early 20s, sent off to the medical examiner’s office to figure out how they died. Meanwhile, the police started an official investigation and began by trying to identify the two victims.
At first, the police struggled to identify the two young women and they decided to release sketches of their faces to the public in the hopes that someone would recognize them. Once the sketched were finished the next morning, however, the police began to suspect that the victims had actually been sisters.
Identifying The Victims
While looking at the sketches, it occurred to investigators that the girls had similar features, similar hair, the same build, and the same skin tone. By Friday the 26th, investigators managed to identify the girls as 22-year-old Rotana Farea and her younger sister, 16-year-old Tala Farea.
A Long Way From Home
Once the girls were identified, the police sent an investigator to Virginia. During the beginning of the investigation, police learned that the sisters were both originally from Saudi Arabia and had moved to Fairfax, Virginia with their mother and siblings in 2015.
Looking Into Their Past
“We are out to get justice for those two girls and find out exactly what happened,” New York police department’s chief of detectives, Dermot Shea, said at a press conference in the wake of the girls’ deaths. “We are looking at all clues in their past life,” Shea added.
Speaking to The Family
While in Fairfax, which is only a short distance from Washington D.C., police hoped they would get a better idea of what was going on in the sisters’ lives in the previous months. And after speaking with family members, police got a pretty good idea of what may have happened to the girls.
The Missing Sisters
“We’ve made significant progress in piecing together pieces of this puzzle to find out what happened,” Shea said. According to the police, Tala and Rotana’s family had not seen either of them since November 30, 2017, when they went missing for the first time.
Allegations of Abuse
The family reported the girls missing, but when local police found the sisters, they claimed they were being abused by their mother, father, and brother. As a result, Tala and Rotana were sent to a shelter for their own protection, although the abuse allegations were never proven.
Missing From The Shelter
It is believed that the girls were at the shelter until late August of 2018. According to authorities, the pair were again reported missing after they disappeared from the shelter either on August 23 or 24. The NYPD then retraced the girls’ steps to see how they ended up all the way in New York City.
Tracking Their Journey
The NYPD managed to track transactions from Rotana’s credit card and found they arrived in Manhattan on September 1 after taking various forms of transportation north. Once in New York, the sisters used the credit card to stay at high-end hotels, order food, and buy clothes. Security footage from just a week before the bodies were found show the girls looking healthy.
While speaking to those who knew Tala and Rotana, police also learned that the sisters had expressed that they would rather ‘inflict harm’ on themselves than go back home to Saudi Arabia. There have also been reports that the girls tried to seek asylum in the United States so that they wouldn’t have to go home.
A Call From The Embassy
Yet before long, the money started running out. According to authorities, Tala and Rotana’s mom told them that she received a call the day before her daughter’s bodies were found that an official from the Saudi Arabian Embassy called and ordered the family to leave the country because the girls had applied for asylum.
A Desperate Act
A spokeswoman from the embassy denied the claims, but police believe the girls may have been desperate and afraid of being sent back to Saudi Arabia. Authorities haven’t confirmed the girls committed suicide, but there were no signs of trauma on their bodies and it appeared the girls were alive when they went into the water.
The lack of trauma to the bodies also ruled out an earlier theory that the girls had jumped to their deaths from the George Washington Bridge. In addition, the tape that kept their bodies together wasn’t tight as it would have been if they were forcibly bound together.
The Investigation Continues
“At this point in time we have no credible information that any crime took place in New York City, but it is still under investigation,” Shea said. On October 31, police also received another tip from a credible source that seems to support their current theory.
A Haunting Last Sighting
The eyewitness told police that he was exercising in Riverside Park, which is a little bit north of where the girls were later found, at about 7 a.m. when he spotted two girls. They had been sitting about 30 feet apart and praying with their heads in their hands. The scene had haunted him, which is why he decided to tell the police about it. According to police, that location is very close to the river and the girls could have just walked into the water from that area.