18-year-old Barnard College student stabbed to death in New York City park

Tessa Majors, 18, of Virginia, a Barnard freshman, was killed during an armed robbery in Morningside Park.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

A Barnard College freshman was killed during an armed robbery in a New York City park Wednesday evening, according to police and school officials.

The New York City Police Department said it was questioning two teenagers in the death of Tessa Majors, 18, of Virginia, who was stabbed repeatedly in the neighborhood of Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan.

Majors was a first year student at Barnard, a women's college affiliated with Columbia University.

“Tess was a light that shined brightly and our hearts will never be the same. She was very special and very loved,” the Majors family said in a statement.

Investigators believe they are seeking between one and three suspects, one of whom stabbed Majors, in what Barnard officials said was an attempted robbery.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said Thursday afternoon that two teenagers are being questioned, with their guardians present.

Police received reports of an assaulted female in Morningside Park, not far from Barnard's campus, before 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to the NYPD. They found Majors with stab wounds on multiple parts of her body, and she was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

A law enforcement source told NBC New York that a witness saw a group of people running from where Majors was found by a security guard. A text alert sent to Barnard students said one male suspect was wearing a green jacket and a hat.

Tessa Majors.via Instagram

Morningside Park was closed Thursday morning as police investigated the killing, according to a tweet on the park's account. "We are heart broken," the tweet said. "Our deepest condolences go out to her family and friends."

"We will find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote in a tweet.

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

"The idea that a college freshman at Barnard was murdered in cold blood is painful and terrifying," he said later at a news conference.

"Last night’s murder of a young woman near Morningside Park is despicable, unacceptable — and goes against everything NYC stands for," NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan wrote in a tweet. He said detectives on the case were working "tirelessly." A $2,500 reward is offered for anyone who provides helpful information in the case.

Barnard College President Sian Leah Beilock said in a statement that Majors' family was traveling to New York from Virginia.

"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," Beilock said. "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."

Additional counseling services for students and staff would be available Thursday, and the school's public safety division offers round-the-clock escort services to students, the statement said.

Beilock said in a later statement that additional public safety officers would be on campus through the weekend, and additional police officers would be patrolling the neighborhood.

A gathering would be held on Barnard's campus Thursday night for staff and students to mourn.

"Today is one of the most difficult days in our college’s history," Beilock said, calling the 18-year-old's death "a senseless tragedy."

"The outpouring of support for Tess has been a tremendous testament to Tess’ vibrant spirit," Beilock wrote.

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger said additional counseling services would also be made available on that campus.

"On behalf of the entire Columbia community, I send my deepest condolences to Tessa’s family, the Barnard community, and all who knew and loved her. Columbia stands in sympathy with Barnard," Bollinger said.

Majors played in a band and had recently played her first gig in New York City, according to her Instagram. She graduated from St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville this year before beginning at Barnard, according to an obituary in the Augusta Free Press, where she interned in spring.

Majors' father, an author and a professor at James Madison University, often posted on Facebook about her accomplishments in music and her young career.

"18 years ago today my life got redefined in all the right ways when this little bundle of fun came into the world," he wrote on her birthday in May. "Happy Birthday to Tessa Rane Majors, a fantastic young lady. I can't wait to see what the next 18 years have in store."