Police said 18-year-old Tessa Majors was stabbed repeatedly shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday near a set of stairs in Morningside Park. Investigators believe it was an attempted robbery.
It’s reading week at Barnard, but instead of impending exams, the sudden loss of a student and her violent death is weighing on people’s hearts and minds.
“I was devastated. First, like, knowing it was someone on my floor. That was hard enough. Then knowing it was someone I had actually seen and knew,” a first-year student named Julia told CBS2’s Christina Fan.
Julia and Gabrielle lived in the same dorm as Majors.
“She was really kind and really good at guitar. She was always a nice face to see in the hallway,” Gabrielle said.
“It’s just really hard to hear for me. I think I’m still processing,” another student said.
“The whole campus is at a loss and it’s been silent all day,” Victoria Dam said.
In a interview, Majors talked about moving to New York from her native Virginia.
“I’m going to Barnard in New York City, across the street from Columbia. It’s an all-girls school. I’m really excited about that,” she said.
Police said Majors collapsed at a college security booth after the attack, and the guard on duty immediately called 911.
“The public safety officer assigned to 116th Street and Morningside Drive was at his post last night when the victim emerged from the park, and he came to her aid immediately upon recognizing that she was injured,” Columbia University said in a statement Thursday. “Reports to the contrary are inaccurate. Officers stationed at this location do not make rounds that cause them to leave their post.”
Those who knew Majors growing up in Virginia said she liked journalism and was close to her family, including her father, Inman Majors, a professor at James Madison University and well known author. Her friend, Chris Graham, said she was a reporter for the local paper.
“She was someone I had great expectations for. She was a talented musician, and that was her first love,” Graham said.
Police are questioning several teenage suspects in custody, but no charges have been filed, CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported. This isn’t the first time the area has seen violent attacks. There have been nearly two dozen incidents in the park since October 2018, including many robberies and one felony assault.
Back in April, police said a group of teens between the ages of 12-15 attacked three women on three separate occasions near the park.
“I’m going to be sure to walk my younger kids home after school. I’m not going to meet them. It’s just not worth the risk,” Morningside Heights resident Kathleen Dames said.
“You hear all these stories and think this can’t happen to me and then this happens 15 minutes after I walk by and I can’t take any classes,” Jane Caron added.
We are increasing the NYPD’s presence in the area IMMEDIATELY. We will keep this community safe, arrest the perpetrators and ensure NOTHING like this can happen again.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) December 12, 2019
There was a significant number of police officers in the park Thursday morning. Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to promise students and faculty an immediate increase in police presence.
“The close-knit community at Barnard College is in shock right now. We’ve lost a young woman full of potential in a senseless act of violence,” he tweeted, adding, “I want every student and every member of faculty to know your city will be with you in the days ahead.”
Barnard College President Sian Leah Beilock sent a message to students, writing, “Tessa was just beginning her journey at Barnard and in life. We mourn this devastating murder of an extraordinary young woman and member of our community.”
“With broken hearts, we share tragic news about the death of one of our students. Earlier this evening, Tessa Majors, a first year student at Barnard, was fatally injured during an armed robbery that occurred off campus in Morningside Park.
Dean Grinage and I have spoken to her parents and Tessa’s family is en route to NYC. We are also in close touch with the New York Police Department as they conduct this on-going investigation and seek to identify the assailant in this horrible attack.
Tessa was just beginning her journey at Barnard and in life. We mourn this devastating murder of an extraordinary young woman and member of our community.
This is an unthinkable tragedy that has shaken us to our core. Please know that we are all grieving together and I am thinking of you as we process this awful news as a community.
In these difficult circumstances, it is important for us to take care of each other. The Furman Counseling Center will be open all night tonight and throughout the day tomorrow. We encourage anyone in need of support to come… In the days ahead, please know that all of our campus resources are available for you as we mourn this heartbreaking loss together. I encourage you to reach out to the following additional on-campus resources as needed… We will provide you with updates as they become available to us. Barnard and Columbia Public Safety are coordinating closely with the NYPD. We remind all students that public safety provides 24/7 escort services and students are free to reach out with any questions or concerns (212-854-6666).
To our entire Barnard community, I am in mourning with you and am here for you. Tonight and in the days ahead, please hold Tessa and her family in your hearts and keep each other close.”
Community resource groups gathered near the site Thursday with candles in hand – calling for change.
“That’s our ask, greater lighting, more patrols in the park so that we feel safer,” Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources said.
As part of the investigation, officers in scuba gear searched a pond for evidence inside the park. In the surrounding neighborhood and near the Barnard and Columbia campus reward fliers were posted in plain sight.
Her family released a statement saying; “Tess shone bright in this world, and our hearts will never be the same.”
The school said counseling services will be available throughout the day Thursday.
- Furman Counseling Center: 100 Hewitt Hall, (212) 854-2092
- Dean of Studies Office: 105 Milbank Hall, (212) 854-2024
- After-hours psychological emergency line: (855) 622-1903
- International SOS for students who are abroad: +1-215-942-8478
NYPD Crime Stoppers is offering a $2,500 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the investigation. Anyone with information about the deadly stabbing is asked to call its hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or 1-888-57-PISTA (74782) for Spanish. You can also submit a tip via the Crime Stoppers website, by tweeting @NYPDTips or by texting 274637.