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Tessa Majors

Police Detail Final Moments As Barnard Student Fought Attackers in Park Robbery

Tessa Majors, 18, was found with stab wounds to her face and body as detectives say she fought her attackers as much as she could

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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

After charging a teenager in the stabbing death of a Barnard College student, detectives in court described some of the victim's final moments as she fought off a group of attackers during an alleged robbery.

New information in the investigation showed that 18-year-old Tessa Majors was in Morningside Park just before 7 p.m. Wednesday when she was a victim of a "robbery gone wrong," according to police.

In a Friday night hearing for a 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 the charged teen watched as Majors was stabbed at the base of the steps, feathers coming out of her jacket as she struggled to fight back. Majors suffered multiple stab wounds to her face and body in the attack, police said.

Soon after, the group ran out of the park as Majors stumbled up the stairs in a desperate attempt to get help. She found a security guard who called 911, but she was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The teen suspect was charged as a juvenile with second-degree murder, armed robbery and criminal possession of a weapon with intent to use, according to a senior law enforcement official. He was arraigned in Manhattan family court later in the day.

According to one senior law enforcement official, the teen made some statements to authorities, but the source did not characterize those as a confession.

A senior law enforcement official told NBC New York that police were questioning a 14-year-old as well, but that teen has not yet been charged. The second suspect was questioned as a result of statements made by the 13-year-old who was charged, the senior law enforcement official said.

Police are still trying to identify all of the attackers allegedly involved in the fatal incident. A law enforcement source said a witness saw a group of people running from where the attack happened.

It was at the base of steps into the park where the attack happened, law enforcement officials said. That's where a growing tribute with candles and stuffed animals grew Friday evening, as the stunned Barnard College community struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.

Majors moved to New York from Virginia and was a first-year student at the school. Now her parents are preparing to bury the young woman, whom they and others have described as a generous soul with a brilliant future.

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

Her family also thanked the "men and women of the NYPD, who continue to work diligently on this case." 

Crime statistics show more robberies have been reported in Morningside Park this year than any other city park. A law enforcement source tells News 4 people are looking into whether the deadly robbery may be connected to another nearby robbery from less than a week earlier. In that case, on Dec. 5, a 19-year-old man was robbed near 114th Street and Riverside Drive by two men who fled the park afterward, cops said.

Police still don't know if the two cases are connected, but it is an element they're looking at in their quest to find Majors' killers. They're asking the public for any information that may help -- and offering a $2,500 reward.

Majors' death has rocked the entire campus community. In an email to students, the school said that she was "just beginning her journey at Barnard and in life."

When asked why she wanted to attend Barnard, Majors told the women's liberal arts college in her application: “As an avid feminist, I have striven towards bridging my community gender divide by being outspoken in my classes, taking an intensive course on social justice, and campaigning for a congressional candidate. I enjoy taking difficult classes and feel invigorated when forced outside of my intellectual comfort zone. I embrace the culture of positivity and growth at Barnard.”

We've lost a young woman full of potential in a senseless act of violence. I want every student and every member of faculty to know your city will be with you in the days ahead.

BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY

The college freshman, an aspiring writer, played in a band and she recently had her first show in October, according to her Instagram posts.

"This is an unthinkable tragedy that has shaken us to our core," Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock said in the letter, adding that counseling services would be available all day Thursday.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger also released a statement, describing her attack Thursday as an "unthinkable tragedy." He said he and other members of the university's senior leadership were working closely with Barnard and the NYPD to better understand the details.

The NYPD has stepped up its presence in the area in the meantime.

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