New York City police chief of detectives Dermot Shea said at a Friday news conference the girls had alleged they were physically abused by family members, and sources in Virginia told detectives, "they would rather inflict harm on themselves than return to Saudi Arabia".
On Oct. 31, someone called the NYPD detectives and told them a story "that was haunting him - his words", Shea said: On Oct. 24, the man told the detectives, he was in Riverside Park at about 7 a.m.to exercise, and found the sisters on a playground.
Investigators say the pair was seen praying together in a park the morning their bodies were found in the water. The sisters, ages 16 and 22, had been placed in a shelter in Virginia in December of previous year, according to Shea, after reporting physical abuse by family members.
New York City police sent a detective to Virginia to learn more about the sisters.
In video police have seen, the sisters were in "apparently good health" as recently as a week before their bodies were found on the riverbank, duct-taped together in a way that appeared to be "keeping them together", Shea said, but was not meant to bind them.
Saudi Arabia's Consulate General in NY said in a statement that it had "appointed an attorney to follow the case closely".
Authorities are still awaiting results from the medical examiner's office to determine the cause of the sisters' deaths, but said it is credible that the sisters entered the water alive.
"They never spoke", the neighbour said.
But at the end of August, they again vanished before their bodies were found in NY.
They arrived in NY around September 1, and for weeks after that, they were seen on security cameras twice between September 1 and about five or six days before they were found, and seemed to be in good condition, Shea said.
They faced abuse and lived in a "shelter-life facility" after being reported missing in 2017, Shea said.
But the Saudi newspaper "Arab News", citing family members, reported that the search was called off when it was discovered she was visiting her sister at an unspecified college in NY.
The New York Police Department declined to confirm the Times' report.
The New York Post, citing unnamed police sources, reported this week the day before the sisters' bodies were found their mother received a call from the Saudi embassy saying the family might have to leave the United States because the daughters had applied for political asylum.
"We've made significant progress in piecing together pieces of this puzzle to find out what happened", Shea said. The family said they were not in contact with them.