Grief on Campus at Columbia

After graduate student dies in stabbing attack and a visiting scholar is wounded, police arrest suspect near Central Park

| 06 Dec 2021 | 09:42

A 30-year-old graduate student at Columbia University, Davide Giri, was killed and a visiting scholar, Roberto Malaspina, was wounded Thursday night after being attacked by an armed assailant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Around 11 p.m., at 123rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Giri was fatally stabbed in the abdomen by a knife-wielding man. Malaspina sustained non-fatal wounds after being assaulted by the same individual on 110th Street and Cathedral Parkway. Police ultimately took the main suspect into custody near Central Park, where he was purportedly threatening a third victim. Authorities have identified the suspect as 25-year-old Vincent Pinkney, a man with gang history and 16 prior arrests who was on parole.

According to the Columbia Spectator, Giri was a sixth-year doctoral student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Columbia, where he was studying computer science. An Italian native, Giri was an avid soccer player — the New York Times reported that he was traveling home from soccer practice when he was killed.

In the wake of the tragedy, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger wrote “with great sorrow” Friday morning to share the news of Giri’s death. “This news is both unspeakably sad and deeply shocking, as it took place only steps from our campus,” Bollinger wrote, while also encouraging students to seek community amongst each other.

Bollinger also shared that the university would host a vigil to honor Giri’s memory, on the lawns of Butler Library Friday evening. Dennis A. Mitchell, Executive Vice President for University Life, reminded students that, in addition to the vigil, quiet reflection centers would be available in a variety of locations on campus for students to congregate.

Malaspina’s identity and affiliation to the university were not known until several days after the attack took place. On Saturday, Bollinger shared an email with the campus population to share “more unbearable news,” saying, “...the horrific attack on Thursday night that claimed the life of Davide Giri, a doctoral student in our School of Engineering and Applied Science, was followed immediately by an assault on a second victim, Roberto Malaspina. We have learned that Roberto had just arrived in New York City from his home in Italy, to begin several months of independent research as a Visiting Scholar at the School of the Arts.”

Enhanced Security

Regarding campus safety, Vice President of Public Safety James McShane noted in an email that several measures were being taken to ensure students’ protection, including enhanced security.

“Starting today, in response to last night’s attack, the New York Police Department will temporarily provide an increased police presence after 7 p.m. in Morningside Park. In addition, the number of enforcement officers currently assigned by the Parks Department to the park every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. will be supplemented,” McShane said. He added, “Additional foot patrols are operating on sections of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, and additional vehicle patrols are dedicated to Morningside Drive and the perimeter of Morningside Park.”

Reacting to the news of Giri’s death, many students expressed concerns for the future of campus safety. Oliver Babb, a senior at Columbia College, lives near where Giri was stabbed, and is “absolutely more conscious about my surroundings in the Columbia area now.” Babb observed, “I don’t feel in imminent danger, but I suppose it’s more of a reminder of the realities around Columbia ... I’ve lived close to both those areas [where Giri was killed and where a second person was non-fatally stabbed], and I’ve never been entirely at ease walking there at night. I’m always aware of my surroundings, checking behind me if I hear sounds, and give people plenty of space when passing.”

Another Columbia College senior, Bobby Doyle, noted that he has already spoken to his parents about the incident, and while they are not “extremely concerned” with his safety after having lived in the Bronx and Manhattan for nearly eight years, “they always want me and my friends to be safe, and recommend traveling in groups after dark, moving fast, etc.”

Both Babb and Doyle shared ideas for how Columbia might better equip its campus community to prevent future attacks from happening. Doyle said, “My biggest recommendation to the Columbia community and honestly the city as a whole is an increased but better trained police presence. While I recognize that many New Yorkers oppose this stance, I think a better trained police force would help handle both delicate and dangerous situations which would ideally lead to a reduction of crime.”

Babb, however, said that “Solving issues like these is always difficult and simply increasing police presence isn’t always the right answer.” He proposed, “Street lights can be important tools in creating safer streets. The cross streets below campus have fewer lights and fewer adjacent shops, so both foot traffic and general visibility is lower.”

Eerily, Giri’s killing comes mere days before the two-year anniversary of the murder of Barnard College first-year student Tessa Majors in Morningside Park, taking place about four blocks from where Majors died. In October, Luchiano Lewis, one of three teens convicted in Majors’ killing, was sentenced to nine years to life in prison.

“Tess Majors’ murder occurred less than 500 feet from my dorm,” said Ryan Hardenbrook, a member of Columbia College’s Class of 2021. “It’s always shocking when something like this happens so close to your school and community you are a part of.”

This story has been updated with information about Roberto Malaspina, the visiting scholar who was injured on Thursday night.