What to Know
- Tessa Majors was a freshman at Barnard College when she was stabbed in Morningside Park in what police say was a robbery
- The 18-year-old fought off her attackers as best she could, biting one of them on the finger
- One teenager has been arrested and another questioned as police look for other suspects, law enforcement sources tell News 4
The slaying of a Barnard College student has led to new security provisions at Manhattan's Morningside Park, Columbia University announced Tuesday.
The college said that guard booths outside the park will now be staffed 24/7 and the evening public safety shuttle will be extended. Those decisions come in the wake of the stabbing death of 18-year-old Tessa Majors, who was killed near the steps of the park in the evening hours of December 11 during an alleged violent robbery.
In addition to those changes, there have been measures already put in place such as a walking safety escort service, neighborhood safe havens and blue light call boxes.
New safety precautions come as the 13-year-old charged in the murder and robbery of Majors was in court on Tuesday. His attorneys argued that the boy — who NBC New York is not identifying due to his status as a minor — didn’t actually commit the murder, but watched it happen.
A detective testified that surveillance footage shows the boy standing at least 10 feet away as two other suspects stabbed the college freshman, but he was found with the red-handled knife afterward. He told police he picked up a dropped knife and handed it to another teen just before the stabbing, the detective said.
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That security footage, though pixelated and dark, shows a scuffle involving several youths and one of them motioning toward the victim, Detective Wilfredo Acevedo said at the hearing in family court.
The boy is not accused of stabbing Majors, but a judge ruled that there is probable cause to proceed with felony murder and robbery charges against him. Judge Carol Goldstein ordered him detained at least through the end of the year. Another hearing is scheduled for Jan. 2.
"The court finds there is a serious risk for reoffending," Goldstein said, despite arguments from the boy's lawyer that he has a strong support system with his aunt and uncle at home, good school attendance and no behavioral problems.
The defense blasted police for questioning the boy without a lawyer present. The organization representing the boy, the Legal Aid Society, cautioned "against any rush to judgment that would only cause additional harm to the Harlem and Barnard communities."
"Our client is a 13-year-old child who is presumed innocent with no juvenile record," the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. "History is full of examples of high profile cases tried in the media, rushing law enforcement to a wrongful arrest and conviction."
Legal Aid lawyer Hannah Kaplan said the boy told Acevedo he did not know the other youths were robbing Majors and was too far away to hear what they were saying. She said security video of the incident doesn't show him with the knife, nor does it show him touching her or taking anything from her.
Police are currently seeking two other suspects, one of whom — a 14-year-old boy — was on his way with an adult to face questioning by police when he bolted from the car, sources told NBC New York. NYPD officers were searching Harlem stores and locations along 125th Street on Monday for the teen, but have not found him.
Police are still trying to identify all of the attackers allegedly involved. A law enforcement source said a witness saw a group of people running from where the attack happened.
In a statement Monday, Majors' family said they want to know "what exactly happened to Tess and who committed her murder. We believe, for the immediate safety of the community and the surrounding schools, that should be everyone’s top priority and we are grateful to the men and women of the NYPD for all of their efforts."
Police immediately stepped up security in the park area after Majors died. Crime statistics show more robberies were reported in Morningside Park this year than in any other park in the city.
In an earlier hearing for the 13-year-old charged in Majors' murder, police described how the group of teenagers put Majors in a chokehold and removed items from her pockets. The college freshman was able to fight back, biting one of her attackers on the finger, police said.
Detectives say Majors was stabbed multiple times at the base of the steps, feathers coming out of her jacket as she struggled to fight back.
A police officer responding to a radio call for a robbery in progress said she found Majors lying face down in the street. Officer Ena Lewis testified that Majors was wheezing for breath and had lacerations on her face and stab wounds to her body.
Then Majors stopped breathing, Lewis said. The officer said she started CPR and kept at it until they got to a hospital, where Majors was pronounced dead.
A memorial has been growing at the scene where the musician and aspiring writer was killed, as the Barnard community continued to mourn the loss.