Officer Ena Lewis had been on patrol in Harlem's 26th Precinct last Wednesday evening when her police radio crackled to life with a report of a robbery-in-progress. When Lewis got to the scene, 116th Street and Morningside Drive, she saw 18-year-old Tessa Majors lying face down in the street.
"I turned her over," Lewis testified on Tuesday, at a court hearing for a 13-year-old boy charged with Majors's murder. Once Lewis turned Majors over, the five-year veteran "observed blood on the female’s face and her wheezing as if she was trying to catch her breath."
Blood from Majors's wounds had filled her lungs and airways. A moment later, Lewis realized "that the female Tessa Majors had stopped breathing. I then started to perform CPR."
Lewis never stopped. When an ambulance arrived, “I continued CPR in the ambulance.”
Majors was killed as the 13-year-old and two other Harlem teens allegedly tried to rob the first-year Barnard College student. When Majors resisted, they stabbed her to death, police say. She died of “stab wounds of torso,” confirmed Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The 13-year-old was arrested on Friday. He is accused of felony murder, robbery and weapons possession. Because of his age, he is not being prosecuted in criminal court. Instead, he is being prosecuted as a juvenile delinquent in Family Court. Because he has not been charged as an adult, Gothamist is not publishing his name.
Lewis and another NYPD officer, Detective Wilfred Acevedo, testified on Tuesday in a probable cause hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence to continue holding the 13-year-old. Family Court Judge Carol Goldstein found there was, and ordered the boy remanded to secure detention.
The Legal Aid Society is representing the boy. “Our client is a 13-year-old child who is presumed innocent with no juvenile record. History is full of examples of high profile cases tried in the media, rushing law enforcement to a wrongful arrest and conviction,” the group said in a statement.
“Tessa Majors’s death is a terrible tragedy and we extend our condolences to her family, friends, and everyone affected by it,” the statement added.
A 14-year-old boy was also arrested on Friday, but on Saturday he was released because prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to charge him, the Daily News reported. A third suspect was supposed to surrender on Monday, but fled, according to the New York Post. Both suspects remain at large.
The trio went into Morningside Park last Wednesday evening “to rob someone,” Detective Acevedo testified at Tuesday’s court hearing. Moments before the trio attacked Majors, they “followed a white male into the park, up the steps,” but didn’t rob him, Acevedo said.
Majors was attacked on wide stone steps that connect Harlem with the campuses of Columbia University and its partner school Barnard. The schools are centered around 116th Street and sit high on a hill that overlooks Harlem to the east. The steps lead down into Morningside Park at 116th Street, before connecting via a path with Morningside Avenue, at the bottom of the hill.
A Columbia University guard booth, with cameras, sits on the sidewalk at the top of the steps. The official residence of Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, is catty-corner across the street. The guard’s seat in the booth faces west, oriented toward Bollinger’s house, instead of the steps.
Despite a number of notable assaults in Morningside Park in 2019 and an increase in the number of reported robberies in the area, neither Columbia nor its partner Barnard warned students about a crime spike in the park, Gothamist reported last Friday.
President Bolinger attended Majors’s memorial service at Barnard last Friday. He ignored a reporter’s questions about Major’s killing when he arrived for the service.
It's not clear why the three boys abandoned their plan to rob the man, but Detective Acevedo testified on Tuesday that as the three teens were moving up the steps, one of them allegedly dropped a red-handled knife, which police believe to be the murder weapon; the 13-year-old handed it back to him.
“He picked up the knife and handed it to one of the individuals,” Detective Acevedo said the 13-year-old told him.
Moments later the boys encountered Majors, and decided to rob her, the NYPD narrative goes. One of the 13-year-old’s companions grabbed Majors from behind. The 13-year-old “heard Ms. Major yell for help and refuse to get robbed,” Detective Acevedo said. She was “refusing to give any property.”
That’s when the third boy stabbed Majors, the 13-year-old said, according to the detective. After the stabbing, the trio ran out of the park together.
Video of Majors’s murder was at least partially captured by a camera mounted on top of the Columbia University guard post at the top of the steps, Detective Acevedo said. He did not say if a guard was inside the post at the time the video was captured.
Mortally wounded, Majors staggered up the stone steps toward her school and the Columbia University Public Safety guard post at the top. She collapsed in the crosswalk at 116th and Morningside.
That’s where Police Officer Lewis found Majors. After starting CPR, an ambulance arrived and took Majors and Lewis to Mount Sinai/St. Luke's Hospital. "I escorted Tessa Majors to the trauma room," Lewis testified on Tuesday.
Doctors cut off Majors's clothes. “I observed several stab wounds and lacerations to her face," Lewis testified.
"At approximately 19:23 hours,” Lewis said, “the doctors pronounced that she had passed away.”
The 13-year-old suspect is due back in court on December 23rd.