ANKARA, Turkey (CBSNewYork/AP) — New questions were mounting Monday evening about the disappearance of a Staten Island woman who had been visiting Turkey.
As CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, an official said Istanbul police were scanning CCTV security camera footage to trace Sarai Sierra, 33, who had been vacationing alone in the city.
Sierra arrived in Istanbul on Jan. 7. She was supposed to come home Tuesday aboard a United Airlines flight. Her family waited at Newark-Liberty International Airport for hours, but she never showed up and has not been heard from since.
“Me and her have a very close relationship,” said Sierra’s mother, Betzaida Jimenez. “It’s the first time she’s taken a trip by herself.”
Sierra’s mother said even when her daughter first brought up the idea of going to Turkey for two months with a girlfriend to take pictures, she admitted to being a little nervous.
“Like a mother, you’re always worried, you know,” Jimenez said.
When the girlfriend backed out of the trip to Turkey, Sierra reassured her family that she would be fine by herself.
“We knew where she was staying at; we knew the number and the name of the place,” Jimenez said.
Sierra was in constant contact with her parents from Istanbul, even calling the day before she was due to fly back from Turkey to make sure her father would be at the airport to pick her up.
“She sent a text to her sister saying she’s excited she was coming home,” Sierra’s husband Steve Sierra said. “I called United Airlines and they stated that she was never aboard the flight.”
“It’s not like my daughter to just not show up,” added Jimenez.
Before she went missing, Sierra planned to head to the Galata Bridge, a well-known tourist destination that spans the Golden Horn waterway, to take some photographs, her mother Betzaida Jimenez said.
When she didn’t show up in New York City, her husband called the place where she had been staying. The owner of the hostel checked her room and saw that her passport, equipment chargers and other items were still there.
“It looked like she was just stepping out,” he said.
Steve Sierra and his wife’s brother have decided to travel to Istanbul to help the search.
“We’re just hoping to work with the authorities and do whatever it is we can to make it a quick and speedy recovery,” Steve Sierra said.
He said this was the first time his wife had ever decided to travel alone because she wanted to experience something different.
The family said Sierra’s children, ages 11 and 9, do not know their mother is missing.
“They don’t need to know,” said Steve Sierra. “They just need to know that everything’s OK and hopefully, Lord willing, mommy’s coming home with their father.”
Steve Sierra, just before leaving for Turkey, also rejected any suggestion that his wife ran off with someone else.
“I have no doubt. That’s not even a question in my mind,” he said. “She was excited to come back home.”
But an old family friend did have his doubts. He alluded to a report that the couple had had marital problems.
I don’t know. I can’t say why people do things,” said Robert Martinez. “Everyone goes through the changes; couples go through their changes, but they were working on it.”
Reports have also surfaced from Turkey, quoting police sources, saying Sarai Sierra made a brief trip to Western Europe from Istanbul in mid-January.
“I would always tell her, ‘Be careful; don’t go out at night,’” Jimenez said. “She says, ‘Oh no, I don’t go out in the nighttime, mom.’”
Sarai Sierra’s family said they have maintained regular contact with the FBI and U.S. authorities in Turkey, and want everyone to pray for their daughter’s safe return.
“That’s the main thing – nothing else – that she’s found and gets home safe,” Jimenez said.
The office of Staten Island U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), assisting with the case, said Steve Sierra and the missing woman’s brother have arrived in Istanbul, and planned to meet with Turkish investigators Tuesday.
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