I’ve been following this case for the past week, and I find it both confusing and tragic. There has been a lot of contradictory information put out there by various news agencies, but I’ve managed to pull together some corroborated facts reported from a handful of credible news sources and the NYPD’s press conference from Friday, November 2.
Tala, 16, and Rotana, 22 emigrated with their family to Fairfax, VA from Saudi Arabia in 2015. The number of family members residing in the US is unclear, I’ve seen different reports on this. The girls had 2 brothers and at least one, but perhaps both, were living in the US along with their mother. The father of the family appears to have been routinely traveling between Saudi Arabia and the US due to his job back in Saudi Arabia. Information on how often he was staying in the US or what his job in Saudi Arabia is hasn’t been revealed by any credible source.
Tala attended high school in the US, while Rotana attended George Mason University in Virginia for a time. There have been reports that Rotana transferred to a college in NY, but I haven’t been able to find any definitive reporting on this and I don’t think its relevant here. What is relevant is that in November 2017, both girls were reported missing by their mother. Police located the girls the day after the missing persons report was submitted, but placed both girls in a Virginia shelter due to complaints by the girls that they were suffering some kind of abuse at home. During a press conference this past Friday, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea stated that the abuse described by the girls was physical but also involved other things he wouldn’t describe.
While the girls were staying in the shelter facility, according to the police, they didn’t have any contact with their family. Then, in August 2018, the girls went missing/left the shelter. The police have since used Rotana’s credit card statement to track the girls traveling to NYC from Virginia, arriving in the beginning of September 2018. From there, credit card statements have the girls staying in high-end hotels, shopping in boutiques and ordering food until roughly a week prior to their bodies being found on October 24. It appears that in this week before the girls’ death, Rotana’s credit card was reaching its limit. According to that same press conference I noted above, the NYPD has recovered security camera footage from some of the hotels that the girls stayed at which show the girls moving around and in apparent good health.
On the morning of October 24, 2018, the girls were spotted by someone in Riverside Park, a park in Manhattan on the Hudson River. The girls were reportedly audibly praying, with their heads in their hands. Later that day, the bodies of both girls were found washed up along the Hudson River. The girls were found bound together at the waist with duct tape. Their feet were also bound by duct tape, but not to each other and some reports even have their sandals having been duct taped to their feet.
Since the discovery of the girls’ bodies the NY medical examiner has revealed that the girls entered the water alive, likely due to a finding of water in the girls’ lungs, but no declaration of cause of death has been officially made. Reports have said that no traumatic injuries were found on the girls either.
So, what do I think? I think this is a double-suicide, but I also have a lot of questions I’d like answered. For instance, motive. What is the motive for suicide here? Some reports say that the girls applied for asylum in the US, and that the Saudi consulate then contacted the girl’s mother who in turn contacted the girls and stated that the entire family would need to immediately return to Saudi Arabia. If that were true, than I could see how the girls, desperate to not go back to Saudi Arabia and have to live with family members who were allegedly abusing them, would choose suicide. But, there are federal regulations in place that prohibit the US from disclosing asylum requests to other countries. And the Saudi consulate has refuted the claim that they contacted the girls’ mother with any asylum information. The NYPD has stated that there have been claims the girls sought asylum in the US, but they haven’t confirmed those claims.
There are reports that the girls’ mother’s visa was expiring and that the family would have to return to Saudi Arabia, but if Tala and Rotana hadn’t had any contact with their family since November 2017, would they have known that?
The spending spree the girls went on in the last 2 months of their lives, followed by them maxing out Rotana’s credit card in the week before their bodies were found, is the strongest indication to me that these 2 committed suicide. To me, it points towards a shared mania. I think its possible that the two girls traveled to NYC without a clear plan. They’d had enough of living in the shelter and couldn’t return home to their family. They decided they had to go somewhere, maybe living in NYC had been a dream for one or both of them. The credit card evidence makes me think they weren’t thinking too many steps ahead, and once they ran out of money reality finally set in. With no means to support themselves and nowhere to go, its possible the girls sank into a despair so deep they felt the only thing they could do is take their own lives. The girls must have been very close, and I believe they bound themselves together before walking into the river (they would have been able to simply walk into the river from the park they were last spotted in) so that their bodies would be found together.
There are still a lot of questions I’d like to see answered. Did the girls actually claim asylum? Did they have any contact at all with family members in the 2 months between moving into the Virginia shelter and being found in the water? If true, why would the girls have duct taped their sandals to their feet and why would they have been wearing sandals in NYC in October? And why hasn’t the NYC medical examiner declared a cause of death yet despite the NYPD saying there’s no indication that a crime has been committed? I’ll be continuing to follow this case to see if it develops, but for now I think these girls went willingly into the water.
A few more links: