Boy, 13, Arrested in Fatal Stabbing of Tessa Majors, Barnard Freshman – The New York Times

He appeared in court on murder and robbery charges. Detectives believe two other teenagers took part in the stabbing, an official said.

Credit…Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

[Update: A 14-year-old was detained in the killing of Tessa Majors, the Barnard College student who was stabbed in Morningside Park.]

The murder suspect walked into the courtroom on Friday wearing black sweatpants, Air Jordan sneakers and a navy hoodie. He bit his bottom lip nervously as a court officer asked his name, then his age.

“I’m 13,” he said.

The deadly stabbing of an 18-year-old Barnard College student, Tessa Majors, as she walked in a park near the school’s Manhattan campus has jarred New York City, recalling an era decades ago when violent street crime was far more common.

But also shocking have been revelations about ages of two of the suspects: They are 13 and 14 years old.

“This makes what was already an excruciating tragedy even more painful,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, who represents the neighborhood where Ms. Majors was stabbed. “You now have families on both sides of this horrific crime who are facing devastating loss.”

Ms. Majors, a first-year college student from Virginia who was interested in journalism and played in a rock band, was walking through Morningside Park in Upper Manhattan on Wednesday night when three teenagers tried to rob her, the police said.

In court on Friday, a detective laid out a chilling account of the struggle that ended with Ms. Majors’s death.

One of her assailants pulled a knife and stabbed her several times. As the group fled, Ms. Majors staggered up a flight of stairs, out of the park and onto the street, where a campus security guard found her.

A folding knife with a blade roughly four inches long was found nearby and was being tested for DNA and fingerprints, a law enforcement official said.

At Friday’s hearing, Detective Vincent Signoretti testified that the 13-year-old boy, whom The New York Times is not naming because he is not being charged as an adult, told the police that he and two other teenagers had gone to Morningside Park specifically to rob people.

“They followed a man with the intention of robbing him and decided not to,” Detective Signoretti said.

The trio later spotted Ms. Majors in the park, he said. The boy told Detective Signoretti that he watched his two friends grab the student, put her into a chokehold and remove items from her pockets, the officer testified.

Then, shortly before 7 p.m., the boy watched as his friend slashed the young woman with a knife and feathers from the stuffing of her coat came flying out, the detective testified.

The boy was arrested on trespassing charges on Thursday evening in a building near the park and interviewed by detectives with his uncle present, officials said. His statements led investigators to the other suspects, one law enforcement official said.

One of those suspects, who is 14, was detained and interviewed on Friday, the official said. A second official said that he had a lawyer present when he was interviewed.

The third suspect is believed to be the person who stabbed Ms. Majors and as of Friday evening was still being sought, the first official said.

The 13-year-old, who lives in Harlem and is 5 feet 5 inches tall, has not been formally charged with a crime. A judge ordered he be held until Tuesday, when he is due back in court for another hearing. He is expected to be arraigned eventually on charges of second-degree felony murder, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.

Rachel Glantz, an attorney for New York City, said at the hearing that the allegations were “the most serious charges that can come before a family court.”

Under New York State law, minors charged with intentional murder can be tried as adults. But the 13-year-old will be prosecuted in family court because he is facing a charge of felony murder, meaning that he is not accused of stabbing the woman but of taking part in robbery during which Ms. Majors was killed.

The boy’s lawyer, Hannah Kaplan with the Legal Aid Society, said the police did not have any evidence beyond the boy’s statement. She added that he had never been arrested before.

“There is no allegation my client touched the complainant in this case,” Ms. Kaplan said. “He was merely present when this took place.”

The skinny teenager sat at the defense table slightly hunched over as public defenders whispered into his ear during the hearing. The boy’s aunt and uncle, Shaquoya Carr and Roosevelt Davis, who are his guardians, sat directly behind him. Mr. Davis appeared to wipe away tears.

After the hearing ended, a court officer placed handcuffs on the 13-year-old, tightening them to fit his slender wrists.

Reached by phone, another aunt, Sonia Davis, said she did not believe the boy took part in the murder.

“No, I don’t think he did this, not at all,” Ms. Davis said. Of Ms. Majors’s killing she said, “I do feel bad for her and the family.”

The seemingly random killing of Ms. Majors in a park of symbolic importance to the community surrounding it rattled university students and other city residents.


“It’s just crazy,” said Tyrone Singleton, 53, a building superintendent who lives near the park. “It’s sad they took that girl’s life for nothing. I’m ready to get up out of here.”

Ms. Majors grew up in Charlottesville, Va., and had just moved to New York for her first semester of college. She spent her weekends singing and playing punk rock. She and her band, Patient 0, had just put out their first album in the fall, and they had played their first New York City concert in October.

Her father, Robert Inman Majors, who goes by his middle name, is a novelist and teaches creative writing at James Madison University in Virginia.

“We are devastated by the senseless loss of our beautiful and talented Tess,” her family said in a statement on Friday. “We are thankful for the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from across the country.”

The park where Ms. Majors was stabbed, near the campuses of Barnard College and Columbia University, is in a precinct in Harlem that has grown safer over the years, with major crimes declining drastically there over the last 20 years, according to police data. The precinct had only one other murder so far this year.

“It’s terrifying to think that that could happen anywhere,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Thursday. “It’s unbelievable to me that that could happen here, next to one of our great college campuses.”

But residents have raised concerns about persistent crime in Morningside Park, even as the neighborhood around it improves, and playgrounds and ball fields replace desolate patches once strewn with crack vials.

Earlier this year, several people reported that they had been approached from behind in the park and punched by young people.

As of Sunday, there had been 20 robberies reported inside Morningside Park or on its perimeter this year, compared to seven in the same period last year.

Since June, five people have reported being robbed on or near the staircase at 116th Street and Morningside Drive, near the location where Ms. Majors was stabbed. Recently, the police said, several teenagers had been arrested in a pattern of robberies in the area.

Mr. Levine, the city councilman, said officials needed to do more to keep the park safe, including filling gaps in lighting and boosting surveillance camera coverage, which he called spotty.

Tom Baker, 73, has lived on the Upper West Side and has had an affiliation with Columbia since 1964. He said he feared the killing of Ms. Majors would cause a return to a bygone mentality of fear that once divided the university from the surrounding neighborhoods. Ms. Majors, he said, “was somebody who had no idea what the old Columbia rules were.”

“In the old days, nobody went through Morningside Park — at all,” he said. “Ever.”

He said he had been pleased to see the neighborhood become safer in the last 25 years. Still, he said Wednesday’s murder was deeply troubling.

“It makes you wonder, are we going back? Is the city on its way down?” Mr. Baker asked. “My prediction would be that they are going to revert to the old rules by instinct.”

Reporting was contributed by William K. Rashbaum, Laura Dimon, Kwame Opam, Alex Traub, Ashley Southall and Ali Watkins.


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