A New York mother of two on vacation in Istanbul has been reported missing, according to a longtime family friend.
Sarai Sierra, 33, was last heard from on Monday when she spoke with her sister, says Magalena Rodriguez.
A U.S. State Department official in Istanbul said the agency is looking into the disappearance, according to a department e-mail provided to USA TODAY Saturday by Rodriguez.
In the Friday e-mail, Eric Eilskov said his office had sent photos of Sierra and information about her to the head of the missing persons bureau of the Turkish National Police. He said his staff had met with the Turkish officer in charge of the case and also had also spoken to local hospital officials.
Efforts to reach Eilskov Saturday were not successful.
Darby Halladay, a State Department spokesman in Washington, said he did not have any information about Sierra but would look into the matter.
The New Yorker from Staten Island and mother of two had never been overseas. But the budding photographer, popular for her photos of the New York City landscape on the share site Instagram, was drawn to Turkey for its bridges, its landscape and the melding of its European and Asian influences.
She was excited to return home and share her adventures, seeing the sights and eating the local food, which included delicacies such as sheep’s liver, said Rodriguez.
Except when Sierra’s flight from Turkey on United Airlines landed Tuesday night at 4:55 p.m. in Newark, Sierra wasn’t on the plane. She had not shown up to take the flight in Turkey.
So began four days of frantic phone calls to local New York City police, the FBI, the American consulate and Turkish officials who speak no English, Rodriguez says. No one knows what happened to Sierra, her friend of more than 25 years says.
The last time anyone had talked with her was on Monday at 9:20 a.m., when she spoke with her older sister, Christina, and told her she was going to visit the bridges in Galata, a neighborhood of Istanbul.
Rodriguez says Sierra texted, e-mailed or spoke by Skype to at least one person in her family every day during her three-week trip. “This was a trip of life time,” Rodriguez says. “She didn’t know when she would be able to go away again.”
She says Sierra was staying at a hostel in a part of Istanbul called Beyoglu. She says she spoke with the hostel’s landlord, who says he last saw Sierra Sunday night when she was going to go out for something to eat.
After Sierra went missing, the landlord went to her room and found her passport, phone charger and her clothes. She hadn’t packed yet, Rodriguez says. Her family has tried calling her cell phone, but it goes straight to voice mail. She says Turkish police are now canvassing the neighborhood where Sierra was staying. They told the family they’ve sent her photos to local hospitals and prisons. So far, nothing.
At 5’2 and 110 pounds with hazel eyes and long brown hair, Sierra is pretty, a woman who is not easy to miss, says her friend.
But a native New Yorker, she knows how to take care of herself in the city, Rodriguez says. She wouldn’t have run off and left her husband of 14 years or their 11 and 9-year-old sons, says Rodriguez.
“We think she’s hurt somewhere,” Rodriguez says. She says Sierra’s husband, Steven Diaz-Sierra, and her younger brother, David, would be on their way to Turkey on Monday.
Diaz-Sierra, 40, said by telephone Saturday that his wife was supposed to go on the trip with a friend who then couldn’t make it. But he says, his wife was so enthused by the idea of the trip that she decided to go anyway.
He says he was nervous about her going alone, but wanted to be supportive of her. Now, he says he doesn’t know what to think.
He said he had been in touch with the office of Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and was told the State Department would be contacted.
“I’m hoping she’s not hurt,” Diaz-Sierra says. “I’m hoping she’s not afraid. I’m hoping she’s not in a situation none of us want to be in.”
Rodriguez gets emotional talking about the possibility that her friend might not come back home. Those fears cross her mind late at night when she goes to bed, she says.
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are lighting up with flyers about Sierra and posts for her safe return home. Sierra is a receptionist for a chiropractor’s office and college student, but many posting about her know her through Instagram or met her through meet-ups for photography enthusiasts like herself. Her photos of New York City were regularly featured under the made_in _NY hashtag on Instagram.
“This is crazy that none of us have heard from Sarai in 5 days,” wrote one poster.
Another read, “I’ll pray for you that you get home safe and hope to see your pic here smiling.”