x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Sister seeks justice in stabbing

The heartbroken sister of Andree Bejjani talks about how she arrived at the Lebanese businesswoman's New York apartment to find she had been brutally stabbed to death.

Andree (Sara) Bejjani earned an MBA degree in 2004.
Andree (Sara) Bejjani earned an MBA degree in 2004.

SHARJAH // The heartbroken sister of Andree Bejjani spoke yesterday for the first time about how she arrived at the Lebanese businesswoman's New York apartment only to find she had been brutally stabbed to death there just hours before. Nada Bejjani, the victim's married older sibling, had flown from Sharjah to stay with her sister for six days over the Eid break. She went to the apartment at Jumeirah Essex House, a luxury Manhattan hotel, with her seven-year-old daughter, just after 6pm on September 19, to find police officers combing it for clues to the murder.

A maid had discovered the body of Ms Bejjani, 44, at around 2.30pm that afternoon. She had been stabbed in the neck. "We were in a rush to see her, my daughter and I, and we went straight to the 10th floor. I was going to her room when I saw that there were about 25 people and police there," said Ms Bejjani's sister. "I told them I was coming to see my sister Sara. I was waiting for her to come outside to hug me, to hug my daughter, but she was lying in her room in her blood. I believe now that God sent me not to meet her, or to see her, but to bury her.

"At first, when they told me, I couldn't cry, I couldn't scream, I was in shock. I couldn't accept it. I went out and I was walking in the streets of New York and I was looking for her face." Derrick Praileau, 29, the head of house keeping at the hotel, was arrested in September on allegations of second degree murder, but was later arraigned on a Grand Jury indictment for first degree murder in October. He has pleaded not guilty, despite having confessed to the killing to police, and is awaiting trial on remand. His next court appearance will be in December.

Nada had planned to fly out to stay with her sister on September 18, and would probably have been at the flat at the time of the attack, but postponed her flight at the last minute. She was the last person to speak with Ms Bejjani, at about 11.15pm New York time on Friday. "I have some guilt that I changed my flight. If I was there maybe I could have helped defend her, but who could have thought of this happening? Maybe it was God's wish for us not to be there, for my daughter not to be there, he could have killed us all. You can't change what's happened," said Nada.

Since 2005, her sister, who had changed her first name from Andree to Sara, had worked as an executive for a Gulf equity specialist and was the founder of Royal Investments LLC, an investment firm based in Dubai, splitting her time between New York and the UAE. After training in Beirut as a nurse she arrived in the UAE in 1989 to join her sister who was living in Sharjah. Ms Bejjani then worked in the UAE for about 13 years, first at Al Zahra Hospital in Sharjah and later at Al Zahra Medical Centre, Dubai, where she became operations manager.

Deciding to pursue a career in business, she then travelled to the UK to study in 2002, receiving an MBA from Newcastle University in 2004 before she moved to New York in 2005, where her brother, who declined to comment, is based. "She liked New York so much," said Nada. "Two weeks before her death we were talking and she was telling me how much she liked it." She described Sara as a kind and much-loved woman, a devout Catholic with a diverse range of interests, from horse racing to theatre and fashion.

For Nada, learning of the gruesome details of the murder was particularly difficult. "The way she died was so brutal, it was very upsetting to read," she said. "All the time I think of how scared she was, the look in her eyes when she saw him there and understood what was going on and the pain she went through. I imagine how she reacted. I know how she would have felt, I was the closest person to her."

Sara was buried in New York on September 28. Although Nada could not be present for Praileau's first court appearance, she hopes to attend the hearing in December. "I want to see him. I don't know if it will help but I want to ask him why he did this, why? My sister lost her life, I lost my sister, and he lost his life. I do hope to know why he did it." @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae