On Thursday, New York City Police detained a 14-year-old they suspect took part in the murder of 18-year-old Barnard College student Tessa Majors, who was stabbed to death in a Harlem park earlier this month.
The teenage boy, whose photos were circulated by the NYPD earlier in the week, was released after being questioned, but police sources told multiple outlets the investigation into the teen’s involvement in the homicide is still on-going.
This is the third teen to be interviewed by the NYPD in connection with the high-profile killing, which took place in Morningside Park on Dec. 11. One boy, a 13-year-old, was arrested and charged as a juvenile with felony murder on Dec. 13, reports the Washington Post. But, according to the Associated Press, the boy told detectives he wasn’t the one who stabbed Majors.
Now, investigators believe the detained 14-year-old was the one who stabbed Majors, a source told the New York Daily News. But rather than relying “solely on the testimony of a teen co-conspirator,” the local paper writes, detectives want to test the child’s DNA to see if they can confirm a link. Majors is believed to have bitten one of her attackers.
“Just because we let him go today doesn’t mean we’re not going to charge him at a later date,” another NYPD source told the Daily News.
The specter of the Central Park Five case—specifically, the NYPD’s mishandling of the crime—has hung over Majors’ killing. In the infamous 1989 case—also in Harlem—the five teenage suspects were wrongfully convicted of the rape of a white woman because of false confessions. Majors is white and at least one of her suspected killers, the 14-year-old, is black.
The racial overtones of the case have recently manifested in a series of robocall messages made to Barnard College and Columbia University from a white supremacist organization, reports NBC News. Faculty have decried the calls as “abhorrent and viciously racist,” and the schools are seeking the help of the NYPD to block the messages.
Police have also appeared mindful of the comparison to the Central Park Five case, with NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison tweeting out that the 14-year-old was interviewed by police with his attorneys present. Those sessions have also been videotaped, the New York Times reports. The police say the boys’ guardians have been present for other interview sessions.
But the move of circulating a 14-year-old’s photos was unusual—particularly for a child who has yet to be charged with a crime (the NYPD explained that it had struggled to locate the boy and needed the public’s help). And the Legal Aid Society, a social justice law firm in New York City, has alleged the NYPD acted improperly with its client, the 13-year-old suspect.
As the Times writes, the firm says the boy was “subjected to an aggressive interrogation, including screaming and browbeating by officers, one of whom was armed.” A spokesperson for Legal Aid also emphasized that interviewing an underage suspect with a parent present was insufficient.
“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,” Legal Aid said in a statement to the Times.
The 14-year-old was initially interviewed alongside his mother and lawyer. He is being represented by Neighborhood Defenders.