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Body of missing NY mother found in Turkey

By Ivan Watson and Talia Kayali, CNN
February 4, 2013 -- Updated 1040 GMT (1840 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Turkish police chief says tourist died from blow to her head
  • Body of New York woman found in Istanbul
  • She disappeared almost two weeks ago
  • Sarai Sierra was a mother a two

(CNN) -- The family of an American woman who went missing in Istanbul nearly two weeks ago is in mourning after learning that Turkish police found her body Saturday.

Steven Sierra wept during a phone call with CNN, as he waited in Istanbul to go with police to identify the body of his wife, Sarai Sierra.

Turkish police found the New York woman's body near ancient stone walls in Istanbul's Sarayburnu district, the semi-official Anatolian Agency reported. Police suspected she had been killed at another location.

Police told CNN's sister network CNN Turk that the body of the 33-year-old mother of two showed signs of stab wounds. However, the police chief of Istanbul, Huseyin Capkin, said Sierra died from a blow to her head.

Missing NYC woman found dead in Turkey
What happened to Sarai Sierra?

At least nine suspects had been detained in connection with Sierra's disappearance and death, Anatolian reported.

Sierra's family and friends first sounded the alarm last week after she did not arrive on a return flight from Istanbul on January 22.

"The last we heard from my wife was Monday morning on the 21st. She had spoken with her sister and the last thing she said was, 'I'm coming home tomorrow,' and she was excited and put a little smiley face at the end of her statement," said Steven Sierra in an interview with CNN earlier this week.

Steven Sierra spoke to CNN in Istanbul on Wednesday, after he and Sarai Sierra's brother, David Jimenez, traveled to Turkey to assist in the search.

The worried husband was periodically overwhelmed with emotion throughout the interview.

"You're hoping that she's OK wherever she's at, that she's not hurting, that she's not cold, that she's being fed," Steven Sierra said, choking back tears.

"Its difficult what's going through my mind, if our hopes and prayers are not answered. It is difficult when you have two children that look up to you, and you have to do your very best to stay strong regardless of what happens."

Sarai Sierra flew alone to Istanbul on January 7 after a friend at the last minute canceled plans to accompany her.

"She did a lot of researching about the area, about where she was going to stay, the safest places to go and the time of day to travel," friend Magalena Rodriguez said.

Sierrra was an amateur photographer who had amassed more than 3,000 followers since she joined the photo sharing app Instagram last year.

Some people she met through the service encouraged her to visit the ancient Turkish city, her husband said. They offered to act as tour guides. "You're admiring pictures, but you're getting acquainted with people that you've never met before," Steven Sierra said.

Sarai's brother said he had been worried about his sister's solo trip.

"We were nervous. Were just like 'always be mindful of what you do, be aware of your surroundings. Don't get too comfortable to the point where you drop your guard down,'" David Jimenez said.

But Jimenez and Sierra's husband said Sarai was determined to complete challenges that she set for herself.

As an example, they described how she competed in a triathlon several years ago, despite being a weak swimmer, and despite the fact that she did not own a bicycle. Instead, Sarai completed the cycling leg of the competition by borrowing a mountain bike from her husband.

After arriving in Istanbul, Sierra's photo feed displayed images of Istanbul's beautiful skyline and historic landmarks.

She also squeezed in an excursion to Amsterdam in the Netherlands and to Germany, starting January 15.

"She chose to go to Amsterdam for the graffiti," her husband said. "She informed me as far as how her time was out there. And she also had a tour guide that was helping her out there as well, who I know about and who I've spoken with personally."

Sierra returned to Istanbul on January 19. Three days later, she went missing.

Sierra had rebooked her flight to arrive back early, on January 22, in part to surprise her two sons, 9 and 11.

Days before her scheduled trip home, Sierra spoke with her father, Dennis Jimenez, via Skype to remind him of her flight number and arrival time.

When Dennis Jimenez went to the Newark, New Jersey, airport to pick Sierra up, she didn't show, he said.

The airline told him she had never checked in for the flight.

"She kept in contact with us all the time," Sierra's mother, Betzaida Jimenez, said. "And then not to hear from her? It's not like her."

After the tourist went missing, Turkish police released a surveillance camera video of Sarai at a shopping mall in Istanbul, flipping through her iPad.

The scenes from January 20 are the last known images of her.

The manager of the small private hotel where Sierra was staying reported last seeing her the day the surveillance video was shot. That was a Sunday.

Her Skype account, which she avidly used, went silent a day later. A day after that was when she missed her flight home.

The time she last talked with her family, Sierra was planning on January 21 to see the Galata Bridge and visit the Asian side of Istanbul, her husband said.

The former capital of the Byzantine and East Roman empires straddles the continents of Europe and Asia.

After Sierra's family raised the alarm that she was missing, some of her belongings -- including her passport and medical cards -- were found in her room in Istanbul, though her iPhone and iPad were not there, according to her husband.

Since Sierra's disappearance, Turkish police detained a Turkish man she had been in contact with who was identified only by the first name Talan, according to CNN Turk.

Millions of foreign tourists visit Turkey every year.

While it is not unusual to hear about foreigners being targeted by pickpockets and bag snatchers, violent crime involving foreign tourists is relatively rare.

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