NY mom found dead in Turkey: Should moms not travel alone?

The Staten Island mom who traveled alone to visit Turkey for several weeks was found dead on Saturday. And what I can’t get over is the outpouring of blame not for the person that killed her but for the mother for traveling alone.

Here is the background of the story if you haven’t been following (I bolded the big stuff):

From The Associated Press:

“A New York City woman who went missing while vacationing alone in Istanbul was found dead on Saturday and police detained nine people for questioning in connection with her case, Turkey’s state-run news agency said.

“Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two, was last heard from on Jan. 21, the day she was due to board her flight back home. Her disappearance attracted a lot of interest in Turkey, where such disappearance of foreign tourists are rare and Istanbul police had set up a special unit to find her.

“The Anadolu Agency said the body of a woman was discovered Saturday evening near the remnants of ancient city walls and that police later identified it as Sierra’s.

“The agency did not say what caused her death. The private NTV television reported that she was stabbed to death, while a private news agency, Dogan, said she had a wound to the head, suggesting she may have been hit by an object.

“Police reached by The Associated Press refused to comment on the case.

“Sierra, whose children are 9 and 11, had left for Istanbul on Jan. 7 to explore her photography hobby and made a side trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Munich, Germany. She had originally planned to make the trip with a friend, but ended up traveling alone when her friend canceled.

“She was in regular contact with friend and family and was last in touch with her family on Jan. 21, the day she was due back in New York. She told them she would visit Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn waterway, to take photos.

“The location where the body was found, is a few kilometers away the bridge. It is near a major road that runs alongside the sea of Marmara and offers an iconic view to visitors of dozens of tankers and other vessels waiting to access the Bosporus strait. Police stopped traffic on the road as forensic police inspected the area.

“Anadolu suggested Sierra may have been killed at another location and that her body may have been brought to the site to be hidden amid the city walls.

“At least nine people were detained for questioning in Istanbul over the arrests and a police official on the site told journalists two of them were women. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters on the case.

“It was not clear if a Turkish man Sierra had exchanged messages with during her stay in Istanbul was among the group that was detained. That man was detained for questioning on Friday but was later released. Turkish news reports had said Sierra had made arrangements to meet the man on Galata Bridge but the man reportedly told police the meeting never took place.

“Sierra’s husband, Steven, and brother, David Jimenez, travelled to Istanbul to help in the search. Sierra’s mother, Betzaida Jimenez, said she couldn’t talk when reached in New York.

“Shortly after she was reported missing, Turkey set up a special police unit which scanned through hours of security camera footage in downtown Istanbul in search of clues over her disappearance. A Turkish missing persons association had joined the search, handing out flyers with photos of Sierra and urging anyone with information to call police.

“While break-ins and petty thievery is common in Istanbul, the vast and crowded city is considered relatively safe in comparison to other major urban centers. The American’s death was unlikely to have a significant impact on tourism, an increasingly large component of the Turkish economy.

“In 2008, an Italian artist Pippa Bacca, was raped and killed while hitchhiking to Israel wearing a wedding dress to plead for peace. Her naked body was found in a forest in northwest Turkey. A Turkish man was sentenced to life in prison for the attack”

So what is interesting is the comments following the story and there were similar comments on other sites – even Turkish news sites.

From the Huffington Post comments on the AP story above:


What in the world was she thinking???


brings more than his fair share to the table

Visit the Muslim world at your own peril. No lifeguards on duty (in any sense of the word).

(I lost the name on this one)

Very, very sad. I had hoped so much that she would return home to her family. I have traveled alone, and unfortunately, it can be very dangerous for a woman to travel alone. I don’t blame the woman; I blame the killer. It takes guts to travel like she did…RIP.


I am so sorry for her and her family. I hope the culprits are found.

Let this (sadly) be a lesson………it is unwise to travel alone, especially to a foreign country, when you are a woman.

Judith Berge

I live on staten island where this woman was from. Rip…I don’t understand what she was doing going there alone. I will pray for her and her family.


if you’re young and single careful when you chose to go to another country, having children should make you think twice before going alone..


I would never let my wife travel alone to another country.”

This was only one of a few that blamed the killer and not the woman:


“Very, very sad. I had hoped so much that she would return home to her family. I have traveled alone, and unfortunately, it can be very dangerous for a woman to travel alone. I don’t blame the woman; I blame the killer. It takes guts to travel like she did…RIP. “”

So what do you think: Should women not be traveling alone? (I got a lot of heat for telling my babysitter to be careful when she traveled with her buddies. ) Should moms not travel alone because they have such big responsibilities at home? Is the mom to blame or the killer? Should the husband have put his foot down when the friend dropped out? Should the husband have gone with her? (The difference there is traveling with a friend someone else is paying half the expense but with your husband you’re just doubling the expense. ) Is there benefit for women/moms/wives to get out and see the world without family?

Is Turkey the issue? Are women safe to travel alone other places – France, Spain, Israel, Bermuda – or no where?

57 comments Add your comment


February 5th, 2013
5:54 am

“Is the mom to blame or the killer?”

It is sad how low the AJC has sunk.


February 5th, 2013
6:11 am

Moms should not be allowed to travel alone. They should be bound to their children until the children are 21. They should be forced to cook and clean until they are no longer necessary. And they should not drive a car either… Moms can be killed in car accidents. And they should not take showers… They can slip in the tub.


February 5th, 2013
6:20 am

Forget about the mother,why did the husband let his wife travel ALONE!Foolish as hell.Dumbmove


February 5th, 2013
6:35 am

All Americans are a target in these third world country’s,sadly let this be severe lesson to all .We are not exactly in good favor of the Muslim society don’t you know this.A terrible decision to leave alone by ALL party’s and she paid Dearly with her life.Why the reason for the side trips to other European country’s.I question this,Why?

A Realist

February 5th, 2013
6:49 am

Another Darwin award winner. Young female traveling alone in the Islamic world. And a mother of two at that. What was she thinking?


February 5th, 2013
6:50 am

My stomach knotted up when I first heard of this story, because I am planning to travel to central Europe alone later this year. My husband decided that he wanted to end our marriage early last year, when our daughter was 9 months old. This trip is a gift to myself for getting through to the other side of that painful separation.

This story is one of thousands of women who travel solo every year around the world. You might as well say that mothers have no business being behind the wheel of the car because they have such huge responsibilities at home; driving is much riskier than traveling. Since becoming a mom, my life has changed a lot. When I became a single mom, my life changed further still. I engage in no risky behavior, and I always put my daughter’s interests first. That’s how it should be. But just because another mom was killed (which of course was the fault of her murderer, how is that even a question?) somewhere while traveling alone doesn’t mean it will happen to me. If you take common sense precautions like you would any time that you go anywhere by yourself, solo travel is a low risk activity.


February 5th, 2013
6:58 am

So, the question is “should we take our notions of what is proper from semi-anonymous posters on the internet?”

According to the article, “Her disappearance attracted a lot of interest in Turkey, where such disappearance of foreign tourists are rare and Istanbul police had set up a special unit to find her.” Of course, why pay attention to facts when we can instead listen to some of the commenters channeling “midnight express” notions of Turkey.


February 5th, 2013
7:01 am

There is more to this story then we know at this time,the truth lies in the shadows of history and an evil mindset that soon will unfold,let us leave an explanation to the educated professionals.RIP Sierra.:(:(


February 5th, 2013
7:15 am

Thinner addiction has become a major problem among youth in many of Turkey’s large cities, which have experienced massive amounts of kurdish migration and where many still live in poverty.

Istanbul, city of 14-16 million people in both Asia and Europe.Kurdish youths struggle with cultural confusion in Istanbul.These children don’t remember the concept of family. They live on the streets during the time in their lives when they should be receiving an education. They see the attractive side of the streets. The most attractive thing is money for them. They find a lot of money. They don’t trust society.

I’m half kurdish and half turkish. Maybe you would be interested to know how a turkish boy came across a Kurdish guy. A few years ago, when I was 13 yr old, in kadıkoy is a large, populous, and cosmopolitan district of Istanbul, I was waylaid by a thinner addicted kurdish guy.I had some money in my school bag, he took all my money.But it was not enough for him. He wanted more, much more..he told me “Come with me to public toilet. I am warned not to come out of the toilet. I was absolutely terrified of running off, All I wanted to do was going to school…on the other hand, I had no option but to do what he said. He told me that his name was Berzan(a kurdish name)” I met younger and older men in the public toilet.I called out them.Berzan suddenly turned on me yelled me to be quiet.He humiliated me in front of them by his dominance and comment. In a matter of a minute I can see the shadow of something comming through the glory hole. When the next thing i notice a pair of eyes are looking at me through a slot on my left, I said ‘NO NO NO’ I wouldnt feel comfortable with my security.Part of me was saying to go but another part of me was saying stay.It was like a matter of survival.

And then suddenly…

Please add me to listen my story .


February 5th, 2013
7:26 am

I don’t think women ought to travel alone period, mothers or not.Specially not to 3rd world Islamic countries, where we all know they have little regard for women’s lives.


February 5th, 2013
7:53 am

I do not travel abroad alone. I travel alone in the US and sometimes Canada all the time. Some of us are business women. I have a college friend in Africa and she wants me to come and visit her. I am considering it. It is more about timing than anything else, for me.


February 5th, 2013
8:09 am

Crime index by city 2012

Crime index in istanbul Turkey :33.37 Istanbul population :16 million

Crime index in Newyork USA :40.97

Detroit, MI, United States :80.21

Miami, FL, United States :69.21

Seattle, WA, United States :48.83

Crime index in Paris France :47.61

Barcelona Spain : 45

Roma Itlay :66.13

Athens Greece :60.13

Moscow, Russia :52.67

Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists safely visit or reside in Istanbul by using common sense and good judgment.

Crime Threats

Istanbul’s overall crime rate remains lower than that of other cities of comparable size. While the majority of crime is non-violent in nature, both the level of crime and aggressiveness of criminals remains a concern. Criminal incidents involving foreigners tend to be concentrated in tourist areas, such as Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi, Sultanahmet, and the Grand Bazaar.


February 5th, 2013
8:22 am

Yeah bennu, but here is the thing: those crime statistic really don’t mean squat on a day to day basis. I notice you didn’t post what Atlanta’s are, but I am betting they are pretty high up there. But the thing is, I don’t go to downtown Atlanta, certainly not alone, for sure not at night, and I would never venture to questionable neighborhoods. Because I am aware of the crime statistics. In a city where you are not familiar with the layout or the neighborhoods, where you don’t speak the language (or I am assuming she didn’t, but I don’t really know), and where you can’t hide the fact that are a tourist, the statistics shoot WAY up.

So yeah, it is possible that Istanbul is relatively “safe” in comparison to American cities, but there is a host of other factors that compound the probabilities.


February 5th, 2013
8:41 am

None of this has to do with Islamic society. Though Turkey is a Muslim country, Istanbul is a relatively secular city. And it is way safer than most large U.S. cities. I’m going there alone in a couple months and I can’t wait!


February 5th, 2013
8:42 am

I don’t believe the entire truth about this has come out. No way a mom woul travel so extensively without her family for something as unimportant as a hobby.


February 5th, 2013
8:49 am

Traveling alone is wonderful, if you don’t have someone to share it with. Why didn’t she take someone with her though – no idea, but it was her choice. I would always want a companion, especially if it was international travel, but she doesn’t deserve anything to happen to her.

Natalie Hollaway was with friends, as was the woman traveling with her friend in India on that bus. You never know.


February 5th, 2013
8:59 am

@Lobo, Turkey isn’t a third world country.


February 5th, 2013
9:00 am

Moms can travel all they want. So can single women. So can men and husbands. People in general should use common sense when travelling alone. I’m not saying the victim here wasn’t, but if she was found dumped behind a wall with either stab wounds or a huge head wound (whatever the article said she died from), she was more than likely somewhere or with someone she shouldn’t have been.

Jersey Guy

February 5th, 2013
9:01 am

Should dads not travel alone?


February 5th, 2013
9:02 am

Should a mom not travel alone? Seriously?? You are more likely to get killed driving your kids to school than while traveling. Life is not lived in a bubble. I hope the perps are brought to justice and yes, this is a sad story but staying home is not an option.


February 5th, 2013
9:04 am

Nice of her husband to go look for her after it was known that she had been texting with a man there.

Metro Coach

February 5th, 2013
9:05 am

Hedda, that may have been true in the past, but its not true now. Turkey is becoming one of the more oppressive Muslim nations in the Mid East. There was a time when Turkey was a secular haven in the region, but not anymore.


February 5th, 2013
9:07 am

This case has nothing to do with traditional patriarchal culture or feminism.This is a ordinary crime which is likely to occur in many parts of cosmopolitan cities.

Have you ever given a hand to a poor person? Have you ever consider their lack of sexual experience? Have you ever taken into account how they earn a living..

I am not talking about chatroulette, twitter…. if you choose this kind of relationship, how can you help secure yourself …

In my opinion; there should be a difference between single and married woman…

Alberta Spruce

February 5th, 2013
9:07 am

I am proudly as ignorant as most of these bloggers. Muslim men KILL their wives, Muslims are ALL terrorists who hate Americans, Muslim countries are UNSAFE to travel to by anyone, and someone once told me that Muslims EAT THEIR CHILDREN after poaching them in cumin.

I am in full agreement with MOTHERTOALEX&MAX. Women shouldn’t travel alone. Anywhere. PERIOD. This is especially true for Southern women. Southern women are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, especially the ignorant ones. (Men, either). I think maybe it’s a good idea for any women wishing to travel alone be required to call in to a loved once an hour during the time she’s away so everyone knows she’s safe.


February 5th, 2013
9:10 am

True ignorance is not realized.


February 5th, 2013
9:14 am



February 5th, 2013
9:16 am

@TWG, lest we forget. Michael was right. The hostage conflict was ended by storming the house.


February 5th, 2013
9:16 am

or bunker as it was.


February 5th, 2013
9:28 am

Well, let’s see…hundreds of thousands of women (and men, including parents) travel alone on business every year, and nobody questions that. Traveling alone is not, in itself, a problem. It’s the activities you do and where you do them, same as at home.

It’s possible this woman thought she could trust someone (like a guide, taxi driver or hotel employee) who then robbed and killed her. Or went somewhere in the city that wasn’t very safe in pursuit of her photography. Those things can happen even while traveling with someone. And similar crimes can, and do, happen to men too.

Or she did everything right and was just unlucky. Sometimes bad things just happen. Crime can happen in the parking lot of your local supermarket or in your own home.

Decatur Guy

February 5th, 2013
9:48 am

“Is the mom to blame or the killer?

Are you retarded?

Decatur Guy

February 5th, 2013
9:50 am

“Is Turkey the issue? Are women safe to travel alone other places – France, Spain, Israel, Bermuda – or no where?

You might be the dumbest person working at the AJC. I’ve read some stupid crap over the years but your questions are the dumbest in AJC history. You should be fired and then barred from ever having anything published ever again.

Decatur Guy

February 5th, 2013
9:51 am

“It is sad how low the AJC has sunk.

For employing the writer, yes. The above questions are beyond stupid and her lack of intelligence proves it. Asking whether or not a victim of a murder is to blame is not only stupid, but it also shows how low the writer goes to get people to comment on her idiotic blog. She makes Cynthia Tucker look smart.

ATL Born and Raised

February 5th, 2013
9:54 am

@Alberta lol

American women are more likely to be killed by their American husbands than random acts of violence perpetrated abroad by strangers.


February 5th, 2013
10:09 am

Relax kids,

Theresa hasn’t bashed this lady. She just asked questions. She gave no opinions. I agree that ladies (like men) only need to practice caution when traveling alone.

Decatur Guy

February 5th, 2013
10:19 am

“Theresa hasn’t bashed this lady. She just asked questions.”

Asking whether or not the lady is to blame for her death is stupid. Spin it all you want.


February 5th, 2013
10:20 am

RIP New York mom. We wanted so desparately for you to be found alive. Her passion for photography ended her life. It’s unfortunate but you never know how things work in other countries; no matter how much research you do. It’s not like the US, people have their own agendas, and how dare us come to these countries as tourists, naive and trusting. It’s just a setup for a bad outcome.


February 5th, 2013
10:37 am

There are few hard and fast rules here. Turkey nor any other nation is the issue. Being a mom is not the issue. Traveling alone is generally riskier than with a companion or group. All things being even, a woman is probably more at more risk being a greater target for sex related crime. But things are not even. The biggest factor is where you go and what you do when you travel anywhere. With that said I would consider the average man traveling alone to be at greatest risk because I think men are by nature more likely to participate in risky behavior or place themselves in dangerous situations than women.

Thus the primary reason we are even talking about this incident here is the sensation created by the exceedingly rare event of a woman with young children being murdered while traveling solo in a faraway country.


February 5th, 2013
10:40 am

women should/shouldn’t travel alone??? This is really discussion-worthy? What a waste of webspace.


February 5th, 2013
11:20 am

In many places in the US it is not safe for a woman to travel alone. I got a flyer from Amnesty International yesterday that cites the rapes, killing, torture, enslavement, beating, and other such things currently happening to women all over the world, EVEN HERE.


February 5th, 2013
11:45 am

No, I don’t think that mothers become a particularly disenfranchised lot when they pop out a baby. Travel is a wonderful thing, and broadens your mind, horizons and perspective. And, as any mother can tell you, sometimes you are a better mother for feeding your own soul in some way, whether it be photography, or whatever else sings to you. She could have been coming back from a weekend in the Poconos with her girlfriends and run off an icy road and died in a car accident. Does that mean she shouldn’t have left her children?

A life well-lived sometimes has risks. It sounds like she ran into some bad luck — but I don’t blame Istanbul. It would be like blaming New York, Miami or Detroit. Sometimes, sh!t happens, no matter how careful you are.


February 5th, 2013
12:11 pm

While this is tragic – even the question of whether a MOM (why not just women?) should travel alone is so beyond stupid, even for you Theresa. Maybe she made some foolish choices while there, maybe not, but to even suggest that a MOM shouldn’t travel alone makes me nuts. I have travelled to over 20 countries, some on my own, and have never had an issus, even when I went to Istanbul for business. I swear you have a 1950s mentality.


February 5th, 2013
12:14 pm

My comment went missing, maybe because I was angry and may have used inappropriate language.

My point – this is a stupid question. Mothers are people that have lives outside of their children. They don’t stop living and taking risks because they have children. Driving on 285 is a risk! No one would be talking about this if it was a man/father as if men/fathers are less important to a family.


February 5th, 2013
12:15 pm

@mjg -exactly – some of us are business women. Imagine for a second if we told our bosses that we couldn’t travel alone! Like others have said, Istanbul is avery cosmopolitan city, respectful of all religions. Turkey is not like Syria, Irac or Iran. I do think she may have trusted someone she shouldn’t. Still, per the crime statistis posted by @bennu, she would be at greater risk travelling in the US.


February 5th, 2013
12:20 pm

What does “traveling alone” have to do with your life expectancy? You are several times more likely to be killed in the US than in Turkey.

Should ‘good moms’ all leave the US because of the staggering crime rate? Should good parents all emigrate with their children to a safer country?


February 5th, 2013
12:49 pm

Also, like another poster asked? Should DADS travel alone?


February 5th, 2013
1:01 pm

Alberta Spruce FTW!!! Love it!


February 5th, 2013
1:05 pm

Our culture blames women for whatever misfortune befalls them–especially when the perpetrators are men.


February 5th, 2013
1:43 pm

@Ellen – you are absolutely correct. We blame women for getting stalked, raped and murdered as if the perpetrator is not the one truly at fault.


February 5th, 2013
3:03 pm

This story is so sad on so many levels. I travel alone a lot to other countries and have thankfully not ever had any problems. You do need to take extra precaution and know where you’re going and who you’re dealing with. I’ve been to several Middle Eastern countries and to Turkey and always been treated with respect. I hope they find whoever committed this terrible crime and they are punished to the full extend of the law. This one incident should not keep women married, single, Moms or otherwise from traveling.


February 5th, 2013
10:56 pm

Some moms care so little about their children they sign up to support the empire in its quest for world domination and eternal war (by joining the military). These are the ones we should be deeply concerned about.

Plenty of people travel. It is not always safe everywhere. It is not always safe just traveling to the store in many places right here in Atlanta. It is both jingoistic and racist to assume that any location outside of the US is unsafe and it is safe here. Regardless of who you are, you need to pay attention to your surroundings and behave responsibly.