Monday, January 28, 2013

Turkey: Solo American Tourist, 33, Mother of Two Disappears in Istanbul

According to The Associated Press, New York City-based US citizen Sarai Sierra, 33, who disappeared in Istanbul a week ago, continues to remain missing.

Although Ms. Sierra had originally planed to travel with a friend, yet the last moment she decided to travel alone when her friend was unable to leave.

Departing on January 7, the married mother of two (ages 9 and 11) has not been heard of since last week, even though she was very predictable in regularly texting her family and friends.

COMMENT: Although Istanbul police depend heavily on a network of closed-circuit television surveillance camera throughout the city of  nearly 14 million, this network has as yet produced no leads as to the young woman's whereabouts or welfare. 

As I have said so many times in the past, solo travel brings with it considerable risks, particularly in a city such as Istanbul.  If traveling alone, it is far better for solo travelers to stay in reputable, safe hotels rather than choosing hostels on the spur of the moment, as hostels bring with them their own risks.

Having served as a Regional Security Officer (RSO) at a number of US embassies abroad, I have handled countless cases of missing travelers, most of whom are found shortly after their disappearance. Sadly, most of those who disappear are found shortly after they are reported missing. 

Unfortunately, finding missing travelers is best left to professionals with experience in locating travelers who have disappeared, as it requires a an emotional detachment and methodical process of finding such persons by backtracking where they have been since their arrival.

Needless to say,  when a traveler is alone and does not keep a diary of their planned itinerary or schedule in terms of sites to see, having family members drop everything and instinctively travel to Istanbul, in this case, is not a suggested course of action. 

It is unknown WHEN or IF family members contacted the US Consulate General in Istanbul when suddenly Ms. Sierra's emails and texting first dropped off. One can only hope that it was not until her schedule return on the January 21.

According to local authorities, the American's passport and medical cards were found in her guest room, where they should not have been, in the event she had a medical emergency. 

Normally, I suggest to tourists in my SAFE FOREIGN TRAVEL workshops that all travelers make a photocopy of their passport photo page and their entry visa and carry that, in order to avoid passport theft.  

Sadly, foreign travelers disappear or turn up missing fairly frequently. Generally, it is because they have not stayed in touch with family, yet in this instance, that is not the case. 

After a period of a week, it is not positive news that Ms. Sierra remains missing. We wish she and her family well in attempting to locate her. Our prayers are with them. 

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.