Investigators have no indication Saudi sisters who were found dead and bound together with duct tape on the shores of the Hudson River in New York City last week died as a result of foul play, New York City police announced Friday.
Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 22, had been missing for two months, after they disappeared from Fairfax, Virginia, in late August. Both had come to the United States two or three years ago.
New York City police Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said at a Friday news conference the girls had alleged they were physically abused by family members and sources in Virginia told detectives, "they would rather inflict harm on themselves than return to Saudi Arabia."
He added later: They have "no credible information that any crime took place in New York City."
A passerby discovered the sisters' bodies, which had washed ashore on some rocks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Oct. 24, police said. The sisters were fully clothed, bore no signs of trauma and had duct tape wrapping around their ankles and torsos.
The bizarre discovery turned the case into national news and left a lingering mystery: Had they been killed? The New York City police said Friday the medical examiner has not yet made a determination on the cause or manner of death.
The mother of the sisters declined to comment when reached by phone on Friday.
"I can't talk about it," she said.
Detectives spent the last week interviewing family members in Virginia and trying to piece together the sisters' movements in recent months. They were reported missing on Sept. 12.
Unidentified family members in Saudi Arabia had previously told the Arab News that they believed the sisters could not have committed suicide. The family members said Tala had run away to New York without telling the family because she wanted to be with her sister, who family members said was attending college there.
When the family discovered Tala was with Rotana, the family called off the search for her, the Arab News reported. The veracity of those reports could not be independently confirmed.
Shea said police examined credit card receipts and other evidence that showed the sisters arrived in New York in September and stayed at various high-end hotels in recent weeks.
The New York Post, citing unnamed police sources, reported this week the day before the sisters' bodies were found their mother received a call from the Saudi embassy saying the family might have to leave the United States because the daughters had applied for political asylum.
A Saudi official said Thursday that was inaccurate, saying they had only communicated with the mother about her expired immigration status in the United States. The Saudi official said they were still researching whether the sisters had applied for political asylum in the United States.
For privacy reasons, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday they could not reveal whether the sisters had applied for asylum.
Rotana had attended school at George Mason University, before dropping out in the spring, school officials said. Tala was a student at Fairfax High School in Fairfax, Virginia, for part of the 2017-2018 school year.
There were signs of trouble on the homefront. The sisters had previously gone missing on December 1, 2017, before they were found the next day, Fairfax Count police said. At the time, police said the sisters were referred to county family services.
In 2016, family members were evicted from an apartment in Falls Church, Virginia, for unpaid rent.
A woman whose niece attended school with the sisters in their hometown of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said they were inseparable and had been hopeful before arriving in the United States.
"They were very much looking forward to going to the US, and had always encouraged my niece to do the same . . . 'Study hard and get out to the US!'" the woman wrote in a text message.