America’s first female Muslim judge has been found dead in the Hudson River.
The New York Police Department’s Harbor Unit responded to a report of a body floating by the shore in Upper Manhattan. Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 65, was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly after 2 p.m., reports The New York Times.
Abdus-Salaam, an associate judge on New York State’s highest court, was also the first African-American woman to serve on that bench.
Police are investigating how she ended up in the river, and how long she had been there. She was fully clothed, and there were no signs of trauma on the body, according to authorities. Her husband identified the body, and investigators found no signs of foul play.
Prior to being appointed to the State Court of Appeals in 2013, Abdus-Salaam served four years as an associate justice on the First Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, and for 15 years as a State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan.
After earning her law degree from Columbia University in 1977, she became a public defender in Brooklyn, then served as an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State attorney general’s office.
In a statement following the announcement of her death, Gov. Andrew M. 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. As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the State’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer. Through her writings, her wisdom, and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come. I was proud to appoint her to the state’s highest court and am deeply saddened by her passing. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family, loved ones and colleagues during this trying and difficult time.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote: “Deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Sheila Abdus-Salaam,” reports the Daily Mail. “She was a humble pioneer. My thoughts are with her family.”
In a 2014 interview, Abdus-Salaam commented on being the descendant of a Virginia slave, as quoted by The Times. “All the way from Arrington, Va., where my family was the property of someone else, to my sitting on the highest court of the State of New York is amazing and huge. It tells you and me what it is to know who we are and what we can do.”