Sarai Sierra: American Tourist Missing in Istanbul

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2013 02:18 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old American mother of two, vanished in Istanbul, Turkey earlier this month while she was taking photos and documenting her experience in one of the city's most crime-ridden areas.

Sierra's personal belongings and her passport were recovered on Tuesday by her Turkish landlord, who stopped by her basement apartment after not hearing from her for a while. Sierra arrived in Istanbul on Jan. 7 and was supposed to return home Jan. 22.

Locals said the New Yorker was staying in an area where illicit activities, drug dealing in particular, are rampant. Sierra was reportedly renting a poorly-lit, miniscule basement apartment in a building where she was the only tourist.

"If you want to see hell, just go a few streets down," Juliette Denptos, a French woman who lives nearby, told USA Today. "The police may be near, but they don't protect us much."

Sierra's husband Steven, a New York City bus driver, and her brother, David Jimenez, flew into Turkey's Ataturk International Airport on Monday to join authorities in the search.

According to Steven, who has yet to tell their 11- and 9-year-old children of their mother's disappearance, his wife traveled to Istanbul to photograph the city's architectural sights.

The landlord who found the missing woman's belongings did not comment further.

Despite the fact that Sierra was in a high-crime area, tourists are rarely raped or murdered in the predominantly Muslim country, with the majority of crimes against non-Turks being muggings, scams or harassment, according to locals.

Locals told the USA Today that generally they are not afraid.

"There is no danger," said street musician Onur Tekin, a 20-something native who lives around the corner from where Sierra stayed. "If you connect to people, you are fine."

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