Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam’s life was one of personal achievement: She was the first African-American woman to serve on New York state’s highest court. She was a trailblazer and “humble pioneer,” according to those who knew her.
But it was also a life marked by personal tragedy. Her brother committed suicide three years ago around this time of year, two law enforcement sources told CNN on Thursday. Abdus-Salaam, 65, had also been stressed recently at work, the sources said.
Her body was found Wednesday afternoon in the Hudson River. Abdus-Salaam’s death is not considered suspicious, and the investigation points to a possible suicide, the law enforcement sources said.
Detectives did not find a suicide note.
“Obviously, we’re still waiting for the full investigation, but to the extent that the challenges and the stresses in her life contributed to this, it’s a reminder that even the most accomplished people still deal with extraordinary challenges inward, and we don’t get to see that,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Thursday.
“It is humbling. It’s a sad day. Someone who got so far and was lost so soon.”
Robert Boyce, chief of detectives for the New York police, told reporters that there were no apparent injuries to Abdus-Salaam’s body and that her death does not appear to be criminal in nature.
The judge was last heard from about 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to the sources. Abdus-Salaam’s husband told police his wife’s secretary received a call from the judge saying she wouldn’t be into work that day.
Police responded to a 911 call about a person floating in the Hudson around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday. They found an unconscious and unresponsive woman, who was later pronounced dead and identified as Abdus-Salaam. She was fully clothed in running attire, a black hooded sweatshirt, sweatpants and sneakers.
The medical examiner will determine the cause of death, police said.
Abdus-Salaam had been an associate justice on the New York Court of Appeals since 2013.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her to the court, hailed her as a “trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all.”