More than a thousand people gathered at Morningside Park in Manhattan at dusk Sunday for a vigil honoring Tessa Majors, who was murdered there last week in an apparent robbery attempt.
The congregation recalled the Barnard freshman’s short time in the city and the impact her death had on the level of comfort students have in the park.
After Majors’ stabbing, allegedly at the hands of middle schoolers, the educational institutions on the west side of the park have been stricken with grief. Now, everyone touched by the senseless killing took their grief to a little shrine for Majors on 116th Street and Morningside Drive.
“I know that when we learned that the suspects — and they are suspects, let’s not assume anything — that the suspects were only 13 and 14 that it only compounded this tragedy,” Councilman Mark Levine said. “Families were destroyed on both sides of this horrible crime. We have failed not just Tess but the families of this community as well.”
Hundreds of people from the surrounding communities spilled down the steps and walkways of the park to pay their respects.
One Harlem resident said she did not feel “healed” by the vigil, claiming elected officials leading the event should have offered the mic to other members of the community. Others in the crowd grumbled similar sentiments as the vigil speakers traded turns at the podium.
Along with Levine, the speakers included state Senator Brian Benjamin, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Adriano Espaillat and state Senator Inez Dickens.
Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez echoed Levine’s sentiment that children on the Harlem side of the park, where poverty is most predominant were failed by a lack of after school programming and other measures that circumvent children entering the criminal justice system.
“If it turns out to be 13 and 14 year olds, we’ve all failed,” Rodríguez said.
Majors was walking through the park just after sundown on Dec. 11, when police believe she was attacked by three young boys, one 13 and another 14, and stabbed several times.
The Virginia native was found on the edge of the park near a security guard station for Columbia University. She was taken to a nearby hospital where she died.
“Tessa had – and all of us have – a right to feel safe in our neighborhood park at 7 p.m., any time of the year,” said Brad Taylor, president of Friends of Morningside Park.
The overarching message from elected officials did not deviate from initial concerns from Harlem residents – that public pressure for justice should not force the NYPD into bringing the investigation along too quickly.