A day after state appeals court judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found dead in the Hudson River, police have begun to piece together a timeline of events.
Abdus-Salaam, 65, of Manhattan, was discovered in the water near West 132nd Street around 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday. She was removed from the river by the NYPD’s Harbor Unit near West 125th and Marginal streets where she was pronounced dead, according to cops.
Abdus-Salaam was an associate justice on the state’s Court of Appeals, nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013, and the first black woman to hold the seat. She was also the first Muslim female judge in the United States.
Police said a missing person’s report was filed for Abdus-Salaam by her husband on Wednesday, before she was found in the Hudson River. Her death is being investigated as a possible suicide, a law enforcement source said.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner's office said Abdus-Salaam’s cause and manner of death "are pending further studies."
An external examination found no signs of trauma and no indication of what caused her death, according to Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce.
"We have a long way to go," Boyce said at an unrelated news conference on Thursday.
Police are now working to determine what exactly happened between Tuesday, when Abdus-Salaam was last in contact with someone, and when she was found in the river, Boyce said.
Abdus-Salaam spent the weekend in New Jersey with her husband, who last heard from his wife on Monday evening, Boyce said. On Tuesday morning, Abdus-Salaam spoke to her assistant in what appeared to be the last contact she had with colleagues, family or friends. Her MetroCard was last used on Monday at a midtown subway stop.
As the NYPD awaits results from the medical examiner's office, investigators have been interviewing relatives and friends.
Following the news of her death, Cuomo said Abdus-Salaam was a “trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all.”
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” Cuomo said in the emailed statement. “Through her writings, her wisdom, and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”
Abdus-Salaam’s death also came as a shock to colleagues who recalled a fine jurist.
“She was a lovely genteel lady,” said former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. “This is a shock, what more is there to say?”
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Abdus-Salaam’s death is “an enormous loss for New York,” adding that she “earned the respect of all who appeared before her as a thoughtful, thorough and fair jurist.”
Abdus-Salaam was a graduate of Barnard College and Columbia Law School. She started her law career with East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a New York state assistant attorney general, according to the Court of Appeals website.
She held a series of judicial posts after being elected to a New York City judgeship in 1991.
With Newsday and Reuters