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Official: Turkish Man Detained In Death Of Staten Island Mother

Turkish state media said this man, identified as Ziya Tasali, has been charged with Sarai Sierra's murder. (credit: CBS 2)

Turkish state media said this man, identified as Ziya Tasali, has been charged with Sarai Sierra’s murder. (credit: CBS 2)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – An official says Turkish police have detained a man wanted in connection with the killing of a Staten Island woman in Istanbul.

Sarai Sierra, the 33-year-old mother of two boys, was murdered while on a solo vacation in Turkey. Her body was found on Feb. 2, nearly two weeks after she was reported missing.

Gov. Celalettin Lekesiz says Sunday police caught the suspect – identified only as Ziya T. – in Hatay province, near Turkey’s border with war-torn Syria.

Turkish police announced last month that they were seeking the man in connection with Sierra’s death.

Turkish news reports have identified the man as a homeless scrap paper collector who used to hang around Istanbul’s ancient city walls, were Sierra’s body was found. He had been on the run since February.

Sarai Sierra (credit: Sierra family handout)

Sarai Sierra (credit: Sierra family handout)

The man was expected to be taken to Istanbul for questioning and to face possible formal arrest and charges.

Reports said police identified Ziya T. as the main suspect in the case after DNA samples taken from his two brothers and a sister matched those found beneath Sierra’s nails. Police would not confirm these reports, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Most of the neighbors who spoke to 1010 WINS’ Gene Michaels Sunday said they hoped the arrest would give Sierra’s family closure and peace.

“They need to put him under the jail,” said one neighbor, Grace. “I used to work with the husband. It’s sad. It’s terrible.”

As CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, the news from Turkey provided some comfort at Christian Pentecostal Church in Staten Island Sunday.

“We announced it and everyone clapped happy that the man was captured,” said the Rev. John Rocco Carlo, pastor of the church.

Sierra was married at the church 16 years ago and mourned at a funeral last month.

“As a former policeman, the only thing that I wonder about is, was he alone?” Carlo said.

Carlo is a retired New York Transit Police captain.

“This was a girl who was pretty tough and, apparently she fought. I don’t know if one person could have overcome her,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sierra’s devastated parents were thankful for the continued outpouring of support, but declining to speak on camera.

“It’s touched us deeply how people have reached out everywhere, but right now we can’t comment,” her mother said off camera.

Family friend Marjorie Ryan said Sierra’s parents, husband and two children were “very relieved that they finally found the person.” She said all the family members are trying to stay strong as the investigation develops.

“I know Steve (Sierra),” Ryan said. “He’s taking care of those kids, and he’s making sure they’re in good shape.”

Authorities said Sierra, who traveled to Turkey to explore her photography hobby, died of a fatal blow to the head.

More than a dozen people have been questioned in the case.

The FBI has been assisting in the investigation.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)