NEW: New York woman went to Istanbul alone after traveling companion canceled, her husband says
NEW: "I'm going to find you," he says; the trip was first out of United States for wife
The mother of two hasn't been heard from since January 21 and didn't fly home the next day
Her husband, Steven, says he has no explanation as to what happened to her
The family of a New York woman last seen earlier this month in Turkey is pleading for help, and clinging to hope, as they try to find out what happened to her and bring her home.
Sarai Sierra traveled to Istanbul on January 7 and over the next two weeks chronicled her trip in photos. She last spoke to her family on January 21, the day before she was ticketed to fly back to New York City.
But they haven’t heard from her since.
“This is not Sarai’s character at all,” her husband, Steven Sierra, told CNN of his wife’s sudden disappearance.
He and Sarai’s brother, David Jimenez, departed Sunday night from New York and are set to arrive in Istanbul late Monday afternoon. Their goal: to find Sarai, hug her tight and cry with joy.
For now, Steven Sierra is coping with his own fears about what might have happened and lamenting that he’s not with his wife to help protect her.
“I’m coming to find you,” her husband told CNN affiliate NY1 of his beloved wife, whom he married in 1998. “I’m coming to find you and bring you home.”
The trip to Turkey was Sarai Sierra’s first outside the United States. A part-time student, part-time receptionist at a chiropractor’s office and full-time mother of two, she also had a passion for photography – particularly taking photos of places and posting them on her Instagram account – according to her husband.
The New Yorker’s plan was to capture the sights of Istanbul with a friend, but she ended up going alone because her friend wasn’t able to make it, Steven Sierra said.
“One of the things that really attracted me to her (was) her strength,” he told NY1. “Such a strong, independent woman – I love that about her.”
After doing some in-depth research in advance, she was “excited” as she headed east. Her husband said that she was enjoying herself in Turkey, though early on in the trip, she rebooked her flight home to come back three days earlier – hoping, among other things, to surprise her sons.
But when Sarai’s father went to the airport to pick her up on January 22, she wasn’t there. The airline later told Steven Sierra his wife had never checked in at the airport.
“She’s fragile,” Steven Sierra said of what’s gone through his mind since then. “And I don’t want her to be afraid.”
The day she last talked with her family, Sierra was planning to see the Galata Bridge and the Asian side of Istanbul, her husband said.
After her family raised an alarm, some of the missing woman’s belongings – including her passport and medical cards – were found in her room in Istanbul, though her iPhone and iPad were not there, according to her husband. Her Skype account, which she usually keeps up all day, wasn’t active Monday or beyond.
The manager of the hotel where Sarai Sierra was staying, located in the heart of Turkey’s largest city, told CNN that Istanbul police officers questioned him Saturday.
Sarai Sierra followed her passion to Istanbul – a budding photographer lured by the possibilities the picturesque, ancient city has to offer.
Her husband describes her a “very attractive young lady” who is “very witty, very funny.” The Staten Island, New York, resident is fair-skinned, has wavy, light brown hair, stands 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs no more than 110 pounds, according to a website dedicated to tracking down Sierra.
The Sierras have two sons, ages 9 and 11. Steven Sierra said Sunday he hasn’t talked to the boys at length about their mother – saying he doesn’t “want to give them a sense of worry or fear” – though he suspects “they know something is not right” because they haven’t heard from their mother since last Sunday.
The U.S. State Department didn’t comment on the case Sunday, but Steven Sierra said officers from the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul are involved. Attempts by CNN to reach Istanbul authorities early Monday were not immediately successful.
Meanwhile, the rest of the missing woman’s family back home in the United States is waiting and hoping for the best.
Said her mother, Betsy Jimenez: “I just want my daughter found and want her to come home.”