NEW YORK (WABC) -- An 18-year-old Barnard College student is dead after she was repeatedly stabbed during a mugging by a group of men in a Manhattan park Wednesday evening, sending shock waves through the college, the wider Columbia University community, and New York City as a whole.
"With broken hearts, we share tragic news about the death of one of our students," Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock said late Wednesday in a letter to the campus. "This is an unthinkable tragedy that has shaken us to our core."
The victim was identified as freshman Tessa Majors.
"We lost a very special, very talented, and very well-loved young woman," her family said in a statement. "Tess shone bright in this world, and our hearts will never be the same."
Police said they responded to a report of an assault around 7 p.m. at West 116th Street and Morningside Drive in Morningside Park, where officers found an unconscious woman who had been stabbed multiple times.
Authorities say they believe a group of suspects approached Majors and demanded her property at knifepoint, and that she scuffled with them and was stabbed several times in the torso.
The suspects then fled the scene on foot.
Majors climbed the stairs to exit the park and collapsed on the sidewalk in front of a school security guard booth, police said. The guard came to her aid upon realizing she was hurt and called 911.
She was taken to St. Luke's Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her parents are said to be traveling from their home in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The university says safety officers never leave their posts but students have doubts.
"There should be 24/7 security guard," said Columbia University student Marwa Khairy. "Personally when I go through the park I almost never see a security guard."
Detectives have been focusing on a nearby city run Grant Houses complex and have talked to numerous teens as they searched for the suspects, but so far, no arrests have been made and no one is in custody.
Majors' phone was found on the sidewalk, but it was not charged. A closed gravity knife and woman's hat were also found inside the park at the base of the stairs.
A second 911 caller told police one of the suspects ran off wearing a green jacket.
Earlier in the day, police had encountered a known robbery suspect who was also wearing a green jacket.
Police swarmed a location where he is known to hang out and reportedly found a blood trail leading there. Investigators are trying to determine whether that person is the same one wanted in the stabbing.
Students at Barnard College expressed their grief and wondered how it could have happened.
"It's very heartbreaking, that's it. Like genuinely my thoughts and prayers go out to her family," said one student.
"I think it's really shaken up the community," said Katie Long, a Columbia University student.
Reward posters have gone up around campus, and NYPD dive teams spent much of the day searching Morningside Pond for evidence.
"Dean Grinage and I have spoken to her parents, and Tessa's family is en route to NYC," Beilock's letter said. "We are also in close touch with the New York Police Department as they conduct this on-going investigation and seek to identify the assailant in this horrible attack. 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...Please know that we are all grieving together and I am thinking of you as we process this awful news as a community.
18-year-old Barnard student fatally stabbed in Manhattan park mugging
More TOP STORIES News