ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish police on Wednesday were trying to trace a person who apparently corresponded with a New York City woman through social networking sites before she went missing, an official said.
Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two, has been missing since Jan. 21 when she was supposed to return home from a solo vacation in Istanbul. Police there have set up a special unit to find her.
A senior police official told The Associated Press that Sierra had exchanged messages with a person before she disappeared and police were now trying to trace the man or woman he described as a possible suspect in her disappearance.
The police official said Sierra "presumably met" the person after she arrived in Istanbul. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules that bar civil servants from speaking to journalists without prior authorization.
Turkey's private Dogan news agency, citing unnamed sources, said Sierra had exchanged messages through her email account with a person who went by the name of "Taylan" although it was not known if that was his real name or an alias. It claimed the two agreed to meet on Galata Bridge, a tourist destination about 2 kilometers (more than a mile) from her hostel.
Dogan said police were scanning through security camera images around the bridge to see if the alleged meeting ever took place. The agency said police had identified the IP address of the device "Taylan" had allegedly used to correspond with Sierra.
Sierra left for Istanbul on Jan. 7 and had been in regular contact with friends and family back in the U.S. Before she went missing, Sierra told family members that she planned to take some photographs at Galata Bridge. She was supposed to begin traveling home on Jan. 21, but never checked into her flight back to New York.
Her husband, Steven, and brother, David Jimenez, travelled to Istanbul to help in the search and were interviewed by Istanbul police Tuesday. The two left police headquarters after about seven hours and were seen carrying a suitcase, which the state-run Anadolu Agency said belonged to Sierra.
Sierra's belongings, including her passport, were found in her hostel room.
Jimenez did not immediately respond to questions sent by email or to an interview request.
Police have released security camera footage showing Sierra alone, eating in the food court of a shopping mall and walking along a main shopping street near her hostel. She is dressed in jeans, a brown leather jacket and a winter hat.
Sierra had planned to go on the trip with a friend but ended up going by herself when the friend couldn't make it. She was looking forward to exploring her hobby of photography, on her first trip outside of the U.S., her family said.
Associated Press writer Ezgi Akin contributed to this report.