Charges against teen reportedly dropped in killing of Barnard freshman Tessa Majors as police search for alleged killer

Adam Warner
December 14, 2019 - 4:28 pm
Tessa Majors

Jeenah Moon/Getty Images/Tessa Majors/Instagram


NEW YORK (1010 WINS) – NYPD divers on Saturday were searching a pond in Morningside Park near the spot where Barnard freshman Tessa Majors was stabbed to death earlier this week as reports said charges were dropped against one of the two teens apprehended in her killing.

It's unclear what the divers were searching for, but they were spotted in the park on Saturday afternoon. The search comes as police continue to seek a third teen suspected of stabbing Majors.

Charges were also reportedly dropped early Saturday against a 14-year-old boy who was one of two teens taken into custody Friday on suspicion he was involved in Majors' killing.

The Daily News reports that criminal charges against the boy were voided. It's unclear why they were dropped or if the teen remains a suspect in the case, the News reported.

The New York Post reports that the teen isn't out of the woods yet and that the city Law Department declined to prosecute him over a lack of evidence.

"He's still a suspect," a source told the Post. "But they want more evidence. They want a stronger case."

A 13-year-old boy who was arrested Friday is still being held in the death of Majors, who was approached in the park by as many as three youths as she ventured from her campus on the eve of final exams.

The boy was arrested on charges including felony murder, City Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson said in a statement. The teen appeared Friday in family court and is being held in a juvenile detention facility. He is due back in court Tuesday. Charges will not be formalized until a future court hearing.

Rodney Harrison, the New York Police Department's chief of detectives, said on Twitter that one arrest had been made in the killing and “this remains an active investigation.”

At Friday's hearing, Detective Vincent Signoretti testified that the 13-year-old boy said his two friends grabbed Majors, put her in a chokehold and robbed her. The detective testified that the teen said he did not stab Majors — the boy watched his friend slash her with a knife and saw feathers flying out from her coat's stuffing.

The boy, whose name has not been made public, is among just a handful of people in their early teens to be charged with murder in the city in recent years. He will be tried as a juvenile delinquent in family court.

The teen's lawyer, Hannah Kaplan of the Legal Aid Society, said police didn't have evidence beyond the statement from her client, who she said hadn't been arrested before.

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

Sources told 1010 WINS on Friday that a third teen, the suspected stabber, was still being sought by police.

The attackers are all believed to attend a middle school near the park, police have said.

Tessa Majors

The crime has caused alarm in the Columbia and Barnard communities. At least one Columbia student, Yao Yu, says he was recently mugged at knifepoint by three teens in the same spot in Morningside Park.

Yu, an international student from China, says he had only been in the city a few days when he was robbed at knifepoint near 116th Street and Morningside Drive.

“They asked me where I was from and if I had any money. At first, I didn’t think they were threatening me, so I told them I didn’t have any money. Then, they showed me an open knife, so I gave them my wallet and they took my money,” Yu told the New York Post Friday.

Yu says he wonders if the same teens are responsible for the murder of Majors.

“When I heard about the girl who was killed, I thought it was the same group of teenagers, and I was scared,” Yu said.

Police haven’t said if they believe there is a connection.

At a makeshift memorial where Majors was killed, a 16-year-old girl named Lia told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria that she has lived her whole life on Morningside Drive and that she finds the killing hard to believe.

“I’ve played soccer down there. I’ve searched for Easter eggs down there. I’ve hung out with my friends down there,” she said.

“I think I’ll go back and do the same things, but it will be slightly different,” she said. “I’ll look over my shoulder; check the time; remember what happened.”

Tessa Majors Barnard
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

The president of Barnard College said Majors was stabbed during an armed robbery. Authorities on Thursday questioned two people who were later released, police said.

Majors, from Charlottesville, Virginia, played in a rock band in New York and had told an editor from a newspaper internship in high school that she planned to take journalism classes in college.

Flowers and candles were left at a makeshift campus memorial and her family said in a statement Friday that they “are devastated by the senseless loss of our beautiful and talented Tess."

Majors was walking in Morningside Park, which is located down a staircase from street level, just before 7 p.m. Wednesday when she was confronted and stabbed during a struggle, Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said.

She staggered up the stairway to a nearby street, where she was spotted by a campus security guard who called 911, Harrison said. Majors died at a hospital.

Investigators recovered a knife Thursday but were not certain whether it was connected to Majors’ death. Police have since increased patrols around the park and campus, which is part of the Ivy League’s Columbia University.

Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC Radio that he was "absolutely confident that any individuals involved in this terrible, heinous attack will be brought to justice and will be brought to justice quickly.”

Tessa Majors
Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Under state law, the teen can only be tried as an adult if he is charged with intentional murder.

Juveniles convicted in New York state's family courts can be sent to detention facilities until they are 21 in many cases, and are often released after that.

It's increasingly rare for young teens to be charged with murder in New York City, where the homicide total has plunged to below 300 in recent years.

Last year, just two people 14 or younger were charged, according to police records: a 13-year-old girl in a Dec. 16, 2018, killing in Queens and a 14-year-old in the fatal Sept. 21, 2018, shooting of a 16-year-old boy in Brooklyn. Police suspect both killings were gang related.

In the early 1990s, when the city averaged nearly 2,000 homicides a year, several dozen 13-year-olds faced murder charges.

Majors was killed just as the semester at all-women's Barnard College was winding down, with final exams set to begin Friday followed by a month break.

She sang and played bass guitar in the rock band Patient 0. After her first New York show in October, Majors wrote on Instagram: “Safe to say the first NYC show went well ;)”

Her Instagram account also offered glimpses into Majors' personality and her move from Virginia to the big city, from farewells to the “ville” to posts about college life.

Majors graduated high school in May from the private St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville, where Head of School David Lourie said she was "a shining light in our community, a good friend, respected classmate, trusted teammate, and creative and passionate musician.”

Her father, Inman Majors, is the author of six novels and an English professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“We are thankful for the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from across the country," the family statement said. "We would also like to express our appreciation for the efforts of the men and women of the NYPD, who continue to work diligently on this case.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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