The two young Saudi sisters whose bodies were found tied together on the banks of New York City's Hudson River killed themselves, the medical examiner ruled Tuesday.
The bodies of Tala and Rotana Farea, 16 and 23, were found on Oct. 24., igniting international interest in their story.
"The young women bound themselves together before descending into the Hudson River," the city's chief medical examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said Tuesday.
The sisters' deaths were caused by drowning and listed as suicide, according to a statement from the medical examiner's office.
Sources in Virginia had told investigating NYPD officers the sisters previously said "they would rather inflict harm on themselves and commit suicide than return to Saudi Arabia."
In the course of the investigation, the Farea sisters' mother told New York detectives that she had received a call from the Saudi Embassy, the day before the bodies were found, ordering the family to return to Saudi Arabia because the sisters had requested asylum in the US, the Associated Press reported.
The Saudi Embassy has denied such communications. A Saudi official with the embassy told Arab News, a Riyadh newspaper, that: "Any/all communications with the mother had nothing to do with a supposed asylum claim."
The Farea sisters' case is the latest insight into Saudi Arabia's treatment of women, which has caused a number of women to flee — most recently Rahaf Mohammed, formerly known as Rahaf al-Qunun, who was granted asylum in Canada in January.
The sisters had only been in New York for a few weeks when their bodies were found lying on rocks near the river close to 68th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Bound together with duct tape, fully clothed, their bodies showed no signs of trauma, officers said.
The tape was "not binding them tight together, more like keeping them together," NYPD chief of detectives Dermot F. Shea said in a press conference on Nov. 2.
The sisters had arrived in New York on Sept. 1 and stayed in high-end hotels in the city, ordering room service on credit cards, until the cards were maxed out.
The family is believed to have left Saudi Arabia and settled in Fairfax, a suburb of Washington, DC, in 2015.
However, the girls ran away and had not been seen by their family since Nov. 30, 2017. In December, they were placed in "a shelter-like facility" in Virginia, Shea said, adding, “It was raised that they were the subject of abuse.”
The elder sister, Rotana, was enrolled in George Mason University, Fairfax, but left in the spring of 2018. The last known sighting of either sister in Virginia was on Aug. 24, the AP reported. They were reported missing Sept. 12.
BuzzFeed News has contacted the Saudi Embassy in Washington for comment.