NEW YORK — Friends and strangers came to pay their respects Thursday to a New York mother of two who was killed while vacationing alone in Turkey.
The viewing for Sarai Sierra was held at Christian Pentecostal Church on Staten Island on Valentine's Day, which marked the 15th anniversary of Sierra's engagement to husband Steven, a New York City bus driver.
The 33-year-old Sierra disappeared Jan. 21, and her body was discovered 12 days later near Istanbul's ancient city walls. Police say she suffered a fatal blow to the head.
"She was very sweet, a good-hearted person," said Maritza Bermudez, a high school friend, as she left the church. "She was a very joyful person to be around. They say God takes the good ones first, right?"
Marjorie Ryan, a friend of Sierra's mother, said the family is struggling with their grief. "They're very strong, but this is devastating to them," she said.
Mourners arrived in a steady stream while a montage of photos and videos from Sierra's life played on overhead screens. Her funeral is scheduled for Friday.
"A lot of people don't know what kind of person she was," said Neo London, a friend. "She was just a happy person."
Pastor John Carlo, who knew Sierra as a teenager and later officiated at her wedding, said the family was broken up. "This is reality when you see the casket," he said.
Another mourner extended his sympathies to Sierra's two sons, ages 9 and 11.
"I feel bad for the kids," said Brian Doherty, a co-worker of Steven Sierra's. "They're the ones who will really suffer the most."
Sierra had traveled alone to Turkey to explore her photography hobby. A friend who was supposed to join her canceled for financial reasons.
Turkish authorities and the FBI are investigating her death. No arrests have been made.
Janet Santapau said she didn't know Sierra but wanted to pay her respects as a fellow Staten Islander and a Christian.
"I just wanted to come by and support the family," she said. "Just to say I'm with them."