Murder and Grief at Barnard

A brutal stabbing in Morningside Park shocks the city as an arrest is made

13 Dec 2019 | 04:45

A 13-year-old boy has been arrested and charged in connection with the murder of 18-year-old Barnard College freshman, Tessa Majors, that took place Wednesday evening in Morningside Park, the New York Times reported Friday.

Police do not believe that the boy, who lives in Harlem, was the individual who stabbed Majors. The boy’s statements did implicate him in the incident, and have led investigators to two additional suspects, both believed to be 14 years old, according to the Times report.

According to various news reports, Majors, who is originally from Virginia and moved to the city to attend Barnard, was walking in the park near campus when she was approached at West 116th Street and Morningside Drive. A struggle occurred and one of the attackers pulled out a knife and stabbed Majors several times. Once the assailants fled, Majors managed to stagger up the stairs and out onto the street where a campus security guard found her.

She died from her injuries at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital on Wednesday.

A Community Shaken and in Mourning

Students from Barnard and Columbia University gathered Thursday evening at the main gates, contributing candles and flowers as a makeshift memorial honoring Majors. A vigil took place at the Diana Center at 7 p.m., which quickly filled to capacity as community members spilled into the halls of the student center. Students, visibly shaken, huddled together to console one another.

At the vigil, according to a report from the Columbia Spectator, the university’s student newspaper, Barnard College President Sian Leah Beilock told students to take care of one another and to seek counseling if it was needed.

Earlier in the day, Beilock wrote to students, saying, “Today is one of the most difficult days in our College’s history. We are all grieving, and overwhelmed by the senseless tragedy that took Tess Majors from us. Tess was a friend, peer, roommate, musician, writer, and beloved by so many family and friends.”

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger also offered remarks at the vigil, the Spectator reporter. He said that the death of Majors had deeply affected him.

“All of the horror that encompasses this death should not and cannot detract from the appreciation of Tess Majors, the person,” Bollinger said. “Tess must have been extraordinary. I am slowly beginning to get a glimpse of a brilliant young individual. And I am eager to learn more, because Tess will be in my mind, and our collective minds, for a long time to come.”

City Leaders React

Elected officials, including Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the district where the attack took place, offered condolences to Majors’ family and promised action.

“As the father of two teenagers, my heart breaks for Tess Majors, her family, and loved ones,” Levine said in a statement. “This despicable crime has been a painful shock to the entire community. It is critical that we have a better safety plan for this beloved and heavily used public park, including additional cameras and lights in high-risk areas.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer met with NYPD top brass, Columbia University public safety officials and members of the city’s parks department for a walk through of Morningside Park to examine how safety could be improved in the park.

“In light of this tragedy, we need to focus on ensuring that everyone can be safe in Morningside Park,” Brewer tweeted Friday afternoon. “I'll be working with the NYPD and others to make sure a crime like this never happens again.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed these sentiments Thursday.

“We’ve lost a young woman full of potential in a senseless act of violence,” de Blasio said in a tweet. “I want every student and every member of faculty to know your city will be with you in the days ahead.”

By Friday afternoon, the 13-year-old boy had been charged with second-degree felony murder, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon. According to the Times, prosecutors plan to treat him as a juvenile.

At 2:20 p.m. Friday, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a tweet that more major updates would be announced “very soon.”

A Pattern of Crime

The murder follows a pattern of crime on the Upper West Side in the last two months involving groups of young teens surrounding other teenagers in order to steal their property, often using violence. Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin of the 20th precinct reported the pattern to residents of the neighborhood at the precinct’s meeting just weeks ago.

“It’s packs of kids,” Malin said at the time. “They'll surround other kids with their phone and then take it.”

Malin, who declined to comment on the Majors case, previously said that the phenomenon was an issue all over Manhattan and not only in the 20th precinct.

Elizabeth Carr, a resident of the Upper West Side who recently created a Facebook group titled “NYC Moms for Safe Streets” in response to the violent crimes that had taken place in the neighborhood in the last several months, said that before Wednesday’s murder, she felt as though elected officials were not taking these events seriously.

“I’m sure that will change now,” she said in an interview Thursday.

Carr, who is a mother of three and has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, said she believes the stabbing is consistent with the pattern of crime that Malin had described in recent weeks. She called on members of her Facebook group to reach out to politicians to ask what they are doing to figure out the source of this new trend.

“I think the NYPD is really good at solving crime once they happen,” Carr said. “But of course, the real issue is what could have been done to prevent this tragic death.”

The Deputy Commissioner of Public Information did not respond to questions about this pattern of crime involving young teenagers as of Friday evening.