Sierra Leonean Native Saida Wurie has narrated her parent’s death in Saudi Arabia while performing the 2024 Hajj in an Interview with the CNN.

She said it was her parents’ lifelong dream to participate in Hajj, the religious pilgrimage that brings Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia each year.

They’d spent $23,000 on an all-inclusive travel package through a tour company registered in the state of Maryland.

“They saved their whole lives for this,” she told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield. But what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime turned tragic this week, when Wurie learned that her mother Isatu Tejan Wurie, 65, and father Alieu Dausy Wurie, 71, were among the hundreds of pilgrims who have died during the extreme temperatures that have gripped the Persian Gulf country. More than 500 have been confirmed dead while there are fears that number is well above a thousand.

The Wuries were Sierra Leonean native from Bowie, Maryland. Mrs. Wurie had recently retired as a head nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Prince George’s County, her daughter told CNN.

Wurie said she had been in close contact with her parents while they were in Saudi Arabia via a family group chat. It was in that chat, she said, that she learned that the tour company did not provide the proper transportation or credentials needed to participate in the pilgrimage. The group her parents were traveling with, which included up to 100 fellow pilgrims, lacked sufficient food and supplies for the five-to-six-day journey that is a pillar of Islam, she said.

Wurie believes her parents were not “properly prepared” for the trip by the tour operator and “did not receive what they paid for” from the company.

She last heard from her parents on Saturday, June 15, when her mother messaged that they had already been waiting for transportation for hours to take them to Mount Arafat. She believes they were located in Mina at the time. The couple ultimately opted to walk instead and sent a message to their daughter after they had been walking for over two hours.

The couple then joined fellow pilgrims and others in their tour group on Mount Arafat, where they were gathering to pray and reflect on the holy site. A man on their tour group contacted Saida Wurie to say that her parents had gone missing on Mount Arafat, after her father said that he could not continue on the journey and stopped for a break along the way. The man had continued to the top of Mount Arafat but could not find the couple upon his descent.

Wurie received death notifications from the US Consulate in Jeddah, which had obtained them from the Saudi Interior Ministry, saying her parents had died of “natural causes” on June 15. She was later advised by someone at the US Embassy that heat stroke would be considered a natural cause.
The Consulate General’s Office told her that her parents had already been buried, but have been unable to tell her exactly where.

Now, Saida and her brothers are doing everything they can to get answers and find their parents’ burial place.

“We did ask the Saudi government to hold the bodies in order for us to travel to Saudi Arabia to at least give them the proper burial with [their] children being present and to be able to identify the bodies,” she told Whitfield. “Unfortunately, they have already been buried.”

She would like American diplomats to meet her and her siblings on the ground when they arrive to assist them in finding where their parents are buried and collecting their belongings, since she does not know Arabic and is not familiar with the area. As of Saturday, diplomats have not committed to meeting them in person in Saudi Arabia, she said.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Alhaji Mohamed Haji-Kella, says a total of 5 Sierra Leonean Americans died in the 1445/2024 Hajj in Makkah.

Alhaji Kella in an interview confirmed that the 5 pilgrims who passed away are American citizens of Sierra Leonean descent carrying American passports during the Hajj. He said the Saudi authorities say the pilgrims died due to heat weather.

“Sources from the Ministry of Hajj and Umra suggest heat waves as the most common cause of death،” Alhaji Haji-Kella said.

He said the American consulate in Makkah is following up with the Saudi authorities regarding the identification of the bodies for befitting burial or repatriation