Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a 65-year-old associate judge of New York’s highest court, was found floating off Manhattan’s west side at about 1:45pm EDT, a police spokesman said.
The body of Abdus-Salaam, a native of Washington, D.C., was found fully clothed in the river in Upper Manhattan, a day after her husband had reported her missing, according to the New York Police Department. There were no signs of trauma or injury on the body, and the cause of death is still under investigation.
It is not yet known how Abdus-Salaam, who lived in Harlem, ended up in the river, or how long her body had been there. Her death shook the New York legal community, prompting responses from colleagues, judges and state and local political leaders.
Police pulled Abdus-Salaam’s fully clothed body from the water and she was pronounced dead at the scene. Her family identified her and an autopsy would determine the cause of death, the spokesman said.
Abdus-Salaam, a native of Washington, DC, became the first African-American woman appointed to the Court of Appeals when Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo named her to the state’s high court in 2013.
“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,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History said Abdus-Salaam was the first female Muslim to serve as a US judge.
Citing unidentified sources, the New York Post reported that Abdus-Salaam had been reported missing from her New York home earlier on Wednesday. Attempts to reach her family were unsuccessful.
A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia Law School, Abdus-Salaam started her law career with East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a New York state assistant attorney general, according to the Court of Appeals website.
She held a series of judicial posts after being elected to a New York City judgeship in 1991.
Abdus-Salaam was born in 1952 to a working class family of seven children in the District, where she attended public school.
As a teenager, she was inspired to enter the legal profession after an encounter with civil rights attorney Frankie Muse Freeman, according to a 2013 news release from Seymour W. James Jr., attorney-in-charge of criminal practice of the Legal Aid Society in New York City. He commended Gov. Cuomo for nominating Abdus-Salaam to the State Court of Appeals, calling her an “ideal choice” based on her vast experience.