The first-ever female Muslim judge in the US has been found floating on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River, it has been reported.
Sheila Abdus-Salaam's body was discovered on Wednesday (12 April) afternoon. The 65-year-old bore no signs of trauma and she was fully clothed, according to police. A medical examiner will determine the cause of her death, but it is not thought to be criminal, CBS News reported.
According to the New York Post, the associate judge on New York State's highest court – the Court of Appeals – was reported missing from her Harlem home earlier in the day. Her identity was confirmed by her husband.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo paid tribute to the Columbia graduate and first African-American woman to be appointed to the state's Court of Appeals. "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 on Wednesday.
"She was a pioneer," he added. "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."
Abdus-Salaam's death was also mourned by her fellow professionals. Janet DiFiore, the Chief Judge of the State of New York, said her colleague will be "missed deeply".
"Her personal warmth, uncompromising sense of fairness and bright legal mind were an inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune to know her," DiFiore added.
Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who has known Abdus-Salaam for a number of years, said her death was a "blow" for the court.
"She was a superb jurist and an even more superb human being," he told the New York Post.
"I knew her for many, many years. To some degree, we grew up together in the court. I've known her in all her different roles in the court. It's just so shocking. She was a very gentile, lovely lady and judge. If you ask anyone about her, people would say only the most wonderful things. That's why it makes it even more difficult to understand."
As a young girl, Abdus-Salaam became interested in her family history and led her to discover that her great-grandfather was actually a slave in Virginia, the New York Times reported.
"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," she said in a 2014 interview. "It tells you and me what it is to know who we are and what we can do."