The first female Muslim judge in the United States was found dead Wednesday in the Hudson River near Manhattan.
Sheila Abdus-Salaam, an associate judge on the New York State Court of Appeals, was also the first black woman to serve on New York’s highest court. She was 65.
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Police responding to a report of a body floating off of 132nd Street found Abdus-Salaam at about 1:45 p.m. She was declared dead at 2 p.m. Her husband, who had reported her missing Tuesday morning, identified her body.
Police said they did not know how the judge ended up in the Hudson, but said there were no obvious marks of violence on her body. The judge lived in Harlem, about a mile from where her body was found.
The New York Police Department is investigating her death. New York City’s medical examiner will determine how Abdus-Salaam died.
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her to the Court of Appeals in 2013. “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.”
During her confirmation hearings for her position, she had noted that her legal career was inspired by watching the TV shows Perry Mason and East Side / West Side.
Abdus-Salaam once credited her mother and education for her success.
“If my mother wasn’t such a smart and resourceful woman, I might have ended up in foster care or worse,” she said. “Although she dropped out of school, my mother realized that a good education would help us escape the poverty that we were trapped in.”
Abdus-Salaam was married to the Rev. Gregory Jacobs, who works for the Episcopal Archdiocese of Newark.
Neighbor Deborah Audate said the couple had separate residences, but were together on weekends.
“Even though she was an appellate judge, which is a position of high authority, she was just an ordinary person on the block,” Audate said. “She’s just very smart. She really was a very humble person.”
“She’s very well respected on this block. I think we’re still stunned by it,” she added.