Boy, 14, Sought in Killing of Barnard Student
NEW YORK — Nine days after a Barnard student was killed during a mugging in a park, New York City police Friday were carrying out an extensive manhunt for a 14-year-old boy who detectives believed may have been the one who stabbed her with a knife.
“We are working tirelessly,” the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, Rodney Harrison, said at a news conference. “We are looking for one more individual and the investigation is still ongoing.”
The police said the 14-year-old had been identified by another boy involved in the robbery as the one who delivered fatal stab blows to Tessa Majors, an 18-year-old freshman at Barnard College.
Majors, a musician and aspiring journalist who had moved to New York this year for college, was passing through Morningside Park on the way home when she was attacked by at least three young teenagers, police said. Her killing stunned the city and evoked a bygone era when violent robberies and murders were commonplace.
On Friday night, in an unusual move, police distributed a photo of the wanted teenager on social media and asked the public for help in finding him. Minutes later, an official police Twitter account said the teenager was wanted in connection with the stabbing in Morningside Park.
The New York Times generally does not publish photos of minors accused of crimes.
The distribution of the photograph was a measure of the difficulty investigators have faced in locating the teenager, whom they identified early on in the investigation but whose whereabouts is still a mystery.
“First and foremost what we want is to bring closure to this case, appropriately, working together hand in hand with the prosecutors,” Dermot F. Shea, the police commissioner, said Friday, when asked whether any progress had been made in the investigation.
Detectives have arrested a 13-year-old boy, who they said gave statements implicating himself in the crime. He remains in custody and faces a murder charge for his role in the attack. Police questioned and released a different 14-year-old boy last week.
From the start, it was clear to police commanders that the murder of Majors was the sort of heinous crime that demanded an all-out response from the department. The police commissioner and chief of detectives visited the scene the first night, and the department has poured detectives from other units into the investigation.
One reason for the massive response was that the crime evoked another horrific attack in Central Park in April 1989, when a female jogger was raped and brutally assaulted. In that case, five teenagers — known as the Central Park Five — were wrongfully convicted based on false confessions, and the fallout has rippled through the criminal justice system.
In the Majors case, police officials have said they have been careful to question teenage suspects in the presence of their guardians or their lawyers. The interviews have also been videotaped.
But the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the 13-year-old, has said that he was subjected to an aggressive interrogation, including screaming and browbeating by officers, one of whom was armed.
“A parent is not a substitute for an attorney, as parents are often misled, misinformed, kept in the dark, and intimidated by the deceptive and coercive tactics from law enforcement,” a spokesman for Legal Aid said in a statement.
The 13-year-old who was arrested last week told detectives that he and two middle school classmates went to the park on the evening of Dec. 11 determined to rob people, police said. Initially, the teens followed a man walking on some steps, but the boys soon abandoned their plan to mug him.
A few minutes before 7 p.m. the trio spotted Majors, a young woman with dyed green hair and wearing a purple jacket.
During the videotaped interview, the 13-year-old told police he was two steps behind when his two friends approached Major, according to testimony from Detective Wilfredo Acevedo during a detention hearing last week.
One of his friends dropped a red-handled knife, and the 13-year-old told police that he picked the blade up and handed it back, according to the detective’s testimony.
The 13-year-old told police that his two friends grabbed Majors from behind. She refused to hand over her belongings and screamed for help. She also bit the finger of one of the boys during the struggle, police said.
That was when the boy who is now being sought is said to have stabbed Majors so forcibly that feathers flew out of her winter coat, according to the account the 13-year-old gave to detectives.
After the murder, investigators said a grainy surveillance video showed the boys running from the park toward 116th Street. In the next few hours, investigators said, the video helped them trace the boys to their homes.
The 13-year-old, however, was not at home. He was taken into custody on Dec. 12 when a patrol officer spotted him on the street and recognized him from surveillance video.
The next day, investigators questioned the second 14-year-old accompanied by his mother and a lawyer, but he was released after he stopped cooperating, law enforcement officials said.
But the other 14-year-old went missing and, though police have talked to his mother, he has yet to be interviewed, officials said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2019 The New York Times Company
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