The husband of a trailblazing New York judge who was found floating in the Hudson River last week appealed to the public Wednesday for help in unraveling the mystery of how she died.
The Rev. Gregory Jacobs also pushed back strongly against reports that Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African-American woman to sit on New York State’s highest court, “was the victim of a ‘probable suicide.’”
“These reports have frequently included unsubstantiated comments concerning my wife’s possible mental and emotional state of mind at the time of her death,” Jacobs, who is a minister at the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, wrote in a statement. “Those of us who loved Sheila and knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality.”
Abdus-Salaam, her widower wrote, "loved Harlem and its people and lived there for nearly all of her adult life."
"I now join with the NYPD in asking anyone in the neighborhood to step forward with any information that might help us determine what may have happened during those hours before her death," the priest pleaded.
Canon’s first public comments on the 65-year-old judge’s death came a week after Abdus-Salaam was found in the waters off of Manhattan. She was dressed in sweats, had a MetroCard in her pocket, and police said her body showed no obvious signs of trauma.
The NYPD has characterized the circumstances surrounding the death of Abdus-Salaam as “suspicious in nature.” But neither the police nor Medical Examiner has established how she died.
The judge’s extended family also weighed-in on Abdus-Salaam, who was born Sheila Turner and who was widely hailed as the nation’s first female Muslim judge.
“Sheila has not been a practicing Muslim for the past 20 years,” the Turner Family said in their statement. “She continued to use her first husband’s surname professionally. We will forever remember witnessing her happiness as she united in marriage to an Episcopal priest last year.”
Sharif Abdus-Salaam has not returned several phone calls from NBC News for comment about his ex-wife.
The Turner Family also took aim at reports that Abdus-Salaam’s mother and brother had also committed suicide.
“Sheila’s mother, the matriarch of our family who died at age 92 in 2012, did not take her own life,” their statement read. “Shelia’s younger brother, who died in 2014, lost his battle with terminal lung cancer.”
Abdus-Salaam started serving on the New York Supreme Court in 1994. Then in 2009, Gov. David Paterson appointed her associate justice to the New York Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
In 2013, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated her to fill a vacancy on the New York Court of Appeals and praised her "deep understanding of the everyday issues facing New Yorkers."
And after the state Senate confirmed her nomination, Abdus-Salaam received a standing ovation.