NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — There are no signs that a crime was committed in the death of the first black woman appointed to New York state’s highest court whose body was found on the bank of the Hudson River, police said Thursday.
Medical examiners are still planning to perform an autopsy on 65-year-old Sheila Abdus-Salaam.
“There is no apparent injuries to her body. It appears to be noncriminal at this point,” Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Thursday.
Police sources told CBS2 family and friend said the judge had been struggling with depression. Suicide is not being ruled out.
The NYPD harbor unit retrieved her body from the Hudson on Wednesday, a day after she was reported missing.
Boyce said that Abdus-Salaam was last seen Monday night. She was dressed in gym clothes, CBS2’s Lou Young reported.
“She also spoke with her assistant Tuesday morning. At that point, our case picks up,” he said. “We’re trying to find out, exactly, her whereabouts thereafter.”
He said detectives are fanning out in Abdus-Salaam’s neighborhood to see if they can find any video of the judge leaving her apartment.
“One item that gave us a lead immediately and that was her MetroCard,” Boyce said. “We found out that she last used it on 42nd Street on Monday.”
Her seemingly inexplicable death hit those who knew the judge like a physical shock.
“It was like someone punched me in the face. I just couldn’t believe that this person who I’ve known for over 30 years is gone,” friend Randolph McLaughlin said. “I was on the phone with judges last night, court workers. People were literately weeping, weeping.”
Sean Johnson helped take care of Abdus-Salaam’s home on West 131st Street in Harlem when she was away.
“It’s hard, it’s very hard,” he said. “I see if she got killed or something here on the street or somebody shot her, but just to be found in the river? That’s not her, that’s not her at all.”
The area where she was found is also baffling, Young reported. The Hudson River is more than a mile from Abdus-Salaam’s home, but the Harlem River is only half the distance in the opposite direction.
“I don’t believe she committed suicide. She could have been there going shopping at Fairway and gone across the street,” McLaughlin said, noting there’s water that’s closer. “Very close exactly, and easier to get into, if you will.”
Police say Abdus-Salaam spent the weekend in New Jersey with her husband.
All of her property has been recovered, including her car.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Abdus-Salaam to the state’s Court of Appeals in 2013, called her a “trailblazing jurist.”
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” Cuomo said. “Through her writings, her wisdom and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”
Former Gov. David Paterson knew Abdus-Salaam for 45 years.
“I can’t think of a person who could even serve on the United States Supreme Court that would be more prepared or apt,” he told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “Wonderful human being, kind of like Rudyard Kipling wrote, ‘to walk with kings and retain the common touch.’ That was Sheila.”
Abdus-Salaam was also the first Muslim woman judge in the United States. In a tweet, Mayor Bill de Blasio called her a “humble pioneer.”
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said her colleague will be “missed deeply.”
The LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal noted that just last August, Abdus-Salaam wrote “the ground-breaking decision in Lambda Legal’s case that cleared the way for LGBT parents and other parents with no biological ties to seek parenting rights to their children on equal footing with biological parents.”
“Judge Abdus-Salaam saw clearly how damaging it was to keep LGBT parents from their children,” Lambda Legal director of constitutional litigation Susan Sommer said in a statement. “We owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude. She touched the lives of many New Yorkers; her legacy will live on.”
Abdus-Salaam graduated from Barnard College and received her law degree from Columbia Law School.
She started her career as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services. She served as a judge on the Manhattan state Supreme Court for 14 years.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)