A Star of David, a small photo album, cat stickers. Not bags filled with cocaine or piles of fraudulent checks that might be of use to the NYPD, just the minutiae of a young woman’s life that I am waiting to get back from the NYPD and office of the chief medical examiner.
My beloved daughter Sarah’s body was found on Oct. 27 beside the polluted Newtown Creek. She had died of a drug overdose/suicide. She had been missing since Mother’s Day weekend 2017.
Yes, while I grieve, I’ve been waiting — too long — for the return of these material remembrances of her. I am sure others like me are also waiting too long.
The medical examiner performing the autopsy on my daughter’s decomposed body told me she wore a Star of David on a string and a pendant. I asked if the pendant was green jade with a gold design. It was. I had bought it in China in 2000 when I adopted Sarah. I planned to give it to Sarah on an important occasion, and I did on her 18th birthday, barely a year before.
As for the Star of David, I had given her a little one when she was 5. It was presumed lost, but maybe this was it. Sarah’s identity had not yet been confirmed but the necklace plus a piercing over her left eye and a tattoo on one ankle, made it clear to me this was Sarah.
I desperately wanted those two necklaces. I spoke with a detective at the 90th Precinct in Brooklyn, near where Sarah was found, who read off an inventory of what was in Sarah’s red backpack. Sarah had debated between a red and a black Osprey; I told her to buy the red. (She uncharacteristically agreed!)
Indeed, it probably helped the environmentalist collecting water samples in a small boat on the creek spot her. I was told that after the summer’s rain, sun and bugs, it was in terrible shape. I still wanted it.
The inventory included bottles of pills; the only one recognizable to me was the prazosin for her anxiety. I wondered which pills she had taken to end her bipolar disorder. There were two keys on chains, a Citibank card, three Sharpie markers, her water bottle, MetroCard, a phone with a charger, a small photo album and some cat stickers; I wondered if they were stickers she had kept from when she was little that she particularly liked.
At the mention of the cat stickers, I sobbed. Some items seemed random, but did others have significance? What photos were in the album? Family photos or photos of Sarah in Washington, D.C., protesting the White House’s stance on climate change?
The NYPD told me I would be able to collect these items at the precinct within a matter of days, but they did not say exactly when they would release them. Then I learned I’d have to pick them up at 1 Police Plaza, but it was never confirmed the items were there. Meanwhile, I was planning Sarah’s funeral. And what about the items at the ME? A woman in the evidence department told me that sometimes the precinct would pick up items but only on certain days. It seemed uncertain this would actually happen. After a few weeks it looked doubtful I would cut through the red tape any time soon.
I engaged a lawyer, thereby sparing myself the aggravation while I grieved, if at a cost. The wild goose chase began with a voucher that I never got from the precinct because there seemed to be no reason for me to go to the precinct if I was told I could not yet obtain Sarah’s things. The lawyer has been getting a runaround: multiple telephone conferences with the precinct, the office of the chief medical examiner, the evidence office and calls to the Brooklyn property clerk. The latest confounding news is that Sarah’s things are stored at the property clerk’s office in Queens; however, there was confusion about there being a voucher number with no name! The location of the jewelry is unknown.
Looking online, I see that the city does have a system to return belongings in police custody after an autopsy. It does not look so complicated that it should take several months … or more. The “system” is being followed in a disorganized haphazard way, to put it mildly. There must be a more orderly way for people to obtain their loved ones’ items in a timely manner.
So I wait until (if) I can finger Sarah’s things and hold them close to my heart as I do her.