‘They were a happy family,’ says relative of Saudi sisters found dead in New York

The relative of Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, told Arab News that the family of six was just like any other Saudi family who moves between home and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 30 October 2018
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‘They were a happy family,’ says relative of Saudi sisters found dead in New York

  • Claims they committed suicide or ran away are refuted by grief-stricken family member
  • Family’s privacy used to explain why they didn’t have a presence on social media

JEDDAH: A grief-stricken family member of the two Saudi sisters found dead last Wednesday on the shores of the Hudson River in New York City said they were both happy and supported, refusing to believe reports that they committed suicide or had run away.
The relative of Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, told Arab News that the family of six was just like any other Saudi family who moves between home and abroad. They had decided to move to the United States a few years ago, seeking better schools for the sisters and their two brothers, 18 and 11 years old. The children lived with their mother, Wafa’a, in the Virginia suburbs, and their father, Abdulsalam, often travelled back to Saudi Arabia, where he had a job.
“They were just like any one of us, they were a happy family. They were comfortable and at ease with everyone, and so the rumors that they ran away from home were beyond us. It’s impossible. Their mother was naturally protective, but in no way was their household problematic for them to run away.”
The relative rebutted media claims that the girls ran away from home and were missing for two months.
Rotana was specializing in computer and information technology at college and recently moved to New York, where she changed schools and her major. Tala was reported missing when she went to see her sister in New York this summer without her mother’s knowledge, the family member explained.
“Tala was upset for quite some time after her sister decided to continue her studies in NYC. Yes, it did cause a problem for the family as the mother had to file a missing case report to the police over her daughter’s disappearance, but the search was called off later when they found Tala was with her sister, Rotana. The police told their mother that since her younger daughter was safe with an adult, it’s safe to call off the search.”
An amber alert was issued by the Fairfax County Police Department on Aug. 24 but later was removed after the younger sister’s whereabouts were confirmed.
The two young women were very close to their father as they both were the apples of his eyes, the relative said. Although Saudi students have the option of applying for a full government scholarship to study abroad, Rotana decided not to, indicating that the family is financially well off.
The girls’ relative spoke of how humble and shy they were. They were both gifted in school; before moving to the States, Tala had a full-year scholarship from one of Jeddah’s most prestigious schools, Dar Al-Fikr. As any teen their age, they were both into fashion, but not very much into social media.
“They were private and kept to themselves most of the time, but we communicated mostly via Snapchat and it wasn’t a surprise to any of us that they wouldn’t have any accounts on other social media apps,” said the family member. “They were calm and always polite. All families have problems. What kind of sibling relationship would it be without fights every now and then? But that didn’t push them to the edge as the Western media is portraying.”
The initial report of the medical examiner at the scene was that no trauma was found on the bodies, which were bound together.
A statement from the Saudi Arabian consulate in New York City on Monday said it is following up on the case to find out the facts. The embassy in Washington, DC also sought to communicate with the family of the victims “to stand with them and help them in this circumstance.”
Arab News contacted the New York Police Department and was told the case was referred to the criminal investigation unit while the cause of death was still pending determination. They do not rule out anything at this time. More updates will be available.


Saudi Crown Prince meets Chinese vice premier

Updated 22 February 2019
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Saudi Crown Prince meets Chinese vice premier

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng at the Great Hall of the People on Friday before attending a China-Saudi cooperation forum. 
The forum was followed by a ceremony to sign agreements including those on petroleum, the chemical industry, investment, renewable energy and anti-terrorism.
Saudi Arabia is one of China’s top crude oil suppliers and an important market for its exports. Mohammed bin Salman is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping later on Friday.
The Crown Prince’s visit is the third leg of his Asia tour, which has taken him to India and Pakistan.