Neighbors gathered in a Staten Island church on Sunday to say prayers for a fellow member of the congregation, Sarai Sierra, who was found dead in Turkey nearly two weeks after she lost contact with her family.
Turkish news reports say Sierra's body was found in Istanbul on Saturday by locals, near ancient city walls in a low-income district.
The 33-year-old amateur photographer reportedly had a head wound and was still wearing all her clothes and jewelry.
An autopsy was still being conducted by a medical examiner on Sunday, but local authorities believed Sierra died from the head wound.
Meanwhile, at the International Christian Center in the Bulls Head section of Staten Island, worshippers gave special prayers Sunday for Sierra, who was involved in the church's youth ministry, and her husband, her two children and relatives.
"It's been very difficult, but I can tell you the church has been praying for those children," said Pastor Marty Tursi of the International Christian Center. "We've been having prayer vigils and the church has stepped up. Not only this church, but many of the churches on Staten Island and even in New York City, to rally around the children and Steve, Sarai's husband, and her mother and father and her brother and sister."
Members of the congregation said Sierra was a friendly, devout woman.
"She was a loving person. I loved her smile, she always smiled and that's what really just drew you to her," said Bonitra Humphrey, Sierra's friend. "She was just a very loving and a very kind person."
"She's a good friend with a lot of the young adults here. We're good friends and we're lucky to have known her. She will be missed, she will be loved," said Emeka Mbadiwe, a youth minister.
With so many questions still left to be answered about Sierra's death, her friends said they are relying on prayer.
"You really don't know what to think, a lot of questions about why things happen, but ultimately we're just keeping the family in prayer," Mbadiwe said. "There are no answers that we can say to justify what happened, all we can do is pray."
Turkish news reports say a dozen people were questioned in connection with Sierra's death.
Sierra went to Turkey alone on January 7. Surveillance video recorded on January 20, a day before her scheduled departure, shows she was by herself in Istanbul, .
Sierra's husband went to Turkey to assist in the search for her, and by Sunday it was unclear at this point he would return with her body.