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On April 12, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found dead on the bank of New York's Hudson River, not far from her home in Harlem. She was both the first Muslim woman judge in the United States, and the first black woman appointed to New York's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals. The New York Times writes that Abdus-Salaam was "among the most reliable and steadfast liberal voices, regularly siding with vulnerable parties — the poor, impoverished immigrants and people with mental illnesses, for instance — against more powerful and established interests." In 2016, she ruled to expand the rights of same-sex parents in Matter of Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.C.C.

When Abdus-Salaam's body was discovered, the NYPD at first said they were treating her death as a suicide. Now, police say they are treating her death as suspicious.

"We're looking at it as a suspicious death at this point," NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis told the New York Post. "We haven't found any clear indications of criminality, but at this point we can't say for sure. We're hoping if anyone could shed any light into the hours before her disappearance, it would help us establish what happened."

Yesterday, the NYPD issued a public appeal for assistance, calling for anyone who remembers seeing Abdus-Salaam on April 12 to contact them. Abdus-Salaam was last seen in the morning of April 12 when she signed for a package, and her husband reported her missing around noon when he received a call saying she hadn't arrived at work. Her body was found around 1:45pm.

Abdus-Salaam's death was initially treated as a suicide because she had a history of depression. Her mother and brother both committed suicide, in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

In a statement on April 12, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, "Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all."

Top photo via Barnard College

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Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at