Two months ago, Tessa Majors performed her first New York City show with her band since moving to the city to attend Barnard College.
“Safe to say the first NYC show went well,” she wrote on Instagram with a smiley face.
On Wednesday night, the 18-year-old student from Virginia was stabbed to death during an armed robbery while walking through Morningside Park in Manhattan. Authorities said Thursday that two teens were being questioned in connection to her death.
The brutal murder has set the Barnard campus on edge, and many students are trying to prepare for their finals while grappling with the trauma and grief of losing one of their own. About 2,600 students are enrolled at the liberal arts women's college, located just two blocks from the park where Majors was killed.
“When we got the alerts last night from Barnard safety about a possible robbery on Morningside, the last thing I thought was that it could be a Barnard student," Julia Papas, a 20-year-old junior at Barnard, told BuzzFeed News.
“It’s hard as a student because I think we’re all feeling like it could have been any of us,” Papas said. “She was one of ours, and to lose such a young student is numbing to the whole community.”
Another student, who asked to be identified only as NC, said they had friends in common with Majors.
“Everyone kind of saw ourselves in someone that just started,” NC told BuzzFeed News. “Especially first-years, we barely finished an entire semester here. I can’t even imagine how her family must feel, sending someone away to college to somewhere you think is safe.”
Majors was about to go home to her family in Virginia in a week for winter recess, NC said.
In a photo with her daughter posted on Facebook in August, Majors' mom said, “She is officially off to college. Can you believe it? I sure can’t.”
Her family mourned the teen on Thursday, saying, “We lost a very special, very talented, and very well-loved young woman.”
“Tess shone bright in this world, and our hearts will never be the same,” her family said.
At least two people confronted Majors while she walked down some steps to Morningside Park on Wednesday evening, a police source who reviewed surveillance video of the crime told the New York Daily News.
During the “quick interaction,” she fell to the ground and her cellphone landed next to her, the video reportedly showed. During the encounter, at least one of the individuals pulled out a knife and stabbed Majors several times, authorities said.
Majors staggered back up the steps, where a Columbia University security guard saw her and called 911.
The NYPD found her unconscious with multiple stab wounds. She was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Her death has left many people feeling vulnerable and unsafe, especially given how often Barnard and Columbia students walk in Morningside Park.
“All of us have been to Morningside Park. We’ve all walked through after dark,” Madeline Hermann, a first-year student at Barnard said. “We all know what is happening over there. It could have been literally any of us.”
“We’ve all felt it was unsafe,” added another first-year student, Vivian Todd. “We’ve walked through it together and been like, we shouldn’t be here.”
Some students were struggling to process their fears and grief while studying for their final exams, which were scheduled to begin Friday.
Columbia senior Daniela Rojzman, 22, was preparing for her first finals in political science and Bible studies on Friday.
“I think you feel like you’re safe where you go to school and the streets you walk around every day, but then things like this happens, and you just feel a lot more vulnerable,” Rojzman, who had mutual friends with Majors, told BuzzFeed News.
“It’s a really hard time during the semester where everyone is already really anxious with finals, and when something like this happens obviously everything else gets put to the side … and everyone just wants to be together,” she said.
Vanessa, a rising senior at Columbia who declined to give her last name, spent time on Thursday sitting under a tree across from the steps where Majors was stabbed.
“I just wanted to pay my respects,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I also just needed a cry. If you walk through Columbia now, it doesn’t feel like anybody died. I think it tells you a lot about the culture of Columbia and how there’s never really any time to stop and breathe, or even grieve, in this instance.”
However, students have also rallied together to support and check in on one another, sending concerned text messages, sharing links to campus therapy services and campus escort security, and staying up late into the night to talk to each other.
When the news broke that a Barnard student had been killed, “we all immediately started texting each other,” said Hermann, who lives with other Barnard first-year students in the first eight floors of a residence hall on Broadway.
“I probably got 15 texts being like, 'Hey, are you OK?’” she said.
“Everyone just stayed up talking," Hermann added. “I didn’t go to bed till like 4."
Other students described similar conversations.
“Last night in our residence halls it was just groups of girls talking and supporting one another,” Todd said.
Papas said that her texts were immediately flooded with people making sure they were all okay.
“I have never in my time here seen our community come together like it has over the past 12 hours,” Papas said. “The amount of love and support that our community has shown one another in the past 24 hours is astonishing and speaks volumes to the kind of community that we have here.”
She said students are now focused on taking care of each other, especially over the next two weeks of final exams.
Some students expressed concerns about racial implications of increased policing in the area following Majors' death.
“I’m trying to hold space for the victim, but also the social implications that are going to come with this, and by that I mean the hyper-policing of Harlem,” Vanessa said. She pointed out that local tabloid media had called the teens detained in connection to the killing “thugs,” a word she said felt was “really racialized.”
Todd was also furious at a racist Facebook post that claimed the murder would be ignored by the “leftist media” because of reports the detained suspects were black and Majors was white.
“People are taking advantage of a really horrible tragedy to push their own awful agendas, which is deeply offensive,” said Hermann.
Todd and Hermann on Thursday were on their way to buy flowers to put at a makeshift flower memorial for Majors that had been created inside Barnard’s gates.
Hermann wanted to buy lilies because they are a mourning flower, and Todd was thinking forget-me-nots, partly because of blue being one of Barnard's school colors and Majors’ blue hair.
Many students and friends remembered Majors as a bright, friendly, and accomplished person whose music brought joy to others.
Hi Fi Snock Uptown, a DIY performance space for Columbia and Barnard students where Majors gave her first NYC performance in October, remembered her as “funny, bright and confident with kickass green hair to match.”
Nikhil Lahiri, a Columbia University student who posted a Spotify link to Majors’ music on Facebook, said that Majors’ “fearless creativity” had shone through in the short time he knew her.
“I didn't know Tess's family or even her prospective major, but I did know how much joy music-making brought her,” Lahiri said in a Facebook post. “I have no doubt she would've brought us that joy countless times in the future if given the opportunity. Since she was denied that chance, I'll be listening to some of her music tonight and in the days to come.”
One of Majors’ band members posted a touching tribute to her on Instagram.
“Tess I wish I could jam one more time with you,” the post said. “The way for us to honor her is to never quit. Never stop playing. From now on, no matter who’s on stage with me, Tess will be right next [to] me jamming with me.”