Saudi sisters killed themselves, says medical examiner

NEW YORK (AP) — Medical officials have determined that two immigrant sisters from Saudi Arabia, whose bodies mysteriously washed up on the New York City waterfront in October, killed themselves.

Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 23, "bound themselves together before descending into the Hudson River." Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said in a statement Tuesday. The cause of death was drowning.

Their fully clothed bodies were discovered Oct. 24 near the river, two months after they were last seen in Fairfax, Virginia, where they had been living in a shelter amid allegations that they were abused at home.

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A woman speaks on the phone as men ride a motorcycle on a cloudy day in Riyadh November 17, 2013. Picture taken November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: SOCIETY)
A man uses a makeshift aerial lift to transport a cart between Fifa Mountains, in Jazan, south of Saudi Arabia, April 8, 2017. Picture taken April 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hwaity
A picture taken on June 7, 2017 shows Al-Faisaliah Tower in the centre of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign workers on a rest day shop for fresh food products from a market stall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A woman uses her mobile phone in a cafe in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 6, 2016. Picture taken October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
A Saudi man reads a newspaper at a coffee shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Clouds move over the Riyadh skyline November 17, 2013. Picture taken November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: CITYSCAPE SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT)
Veiled Saudi women take photos of their children during a ceremony to celebrate Saudi Arabia's Independence Day in Riyadh September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed (SAUDI ARABIA SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY)
Visitors look at books during the Riyadh Book Fair at the International Exhibition Center in Riyadh, March 7, 2013. REUTERS/Susan Baaghil (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: SOCIETY)
A man display dates for sale during the Festival of Dates ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, in Buraidah, north of Riyadh August 18, 2009. Muslims around the world abstain from eating, drinking and conducting sexual relations from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed (SAUDI ARABIA SOCIETY)
Light trails from automobile traffic traveling along the King Fahd highway, left, and Olaya Street, right, lead towards the Kingdom Tower, center rear, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Women wait outside a shop in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 17, 2009. Saudis have cheered King Abdullah's sweeping government shakeup as a bold step forward, after he sacked two powerful conservative religious figures and named the country's first-ever woman minister. The Saudi monarch announced the first major government shakeup on February 14 since he became king in August 2005, naming four new ministers, changing a number of top judiciary chiefs and shaking up the Ulema Council, the leading clerics whose interpretations of Islamic rules underpin daily life in the kingdom. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A Saudi family plays in the sand dunes near Buraydah, 400 kms northwest Riyadh on March 11, 2016. / AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Automobile traffic moves along the King Fahd highway in the late evening in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The late evening sun sets overs residential and commercial buildings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Customers use automated teller machines (ATM) inside the Al Rajhi Bank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Police said the sisters had been in Manhattan since Sept. 1, staying at expensive hotels and ordering in pairs of meals until a credit card they were using maxed out. A jogger said he saw them praying at a playground near the river, sitting about 30 feet (9 meters) apart with their heads in their hands, hours before their bodies were found, police said.

The deaths shined a light on the secretive and risky journeys Saudi women take to flee their homes in the kingdom and abroad. Under the kingdom's guardianship system, women must have the approval of a male relative — such as a father, husband, brother, or even a son — to marry, obtain a passport or travel.

New York City Police Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said people who knew the Farea sisters in Virginia told investigators that they made statements within the last year indicating "that they would rather inflict harm on themselves — commit suicide — than return to Saudi Arabia."

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