Nassau County Police Detective Lieutenant John Azzata later identified the victim to the Associated Press as Patricia Ward, 66, a professor of language arts at Farmingdale State College.
In a statement to NBC New York, a spokesman for the college said Ward was “well-known, well-liked and well-respected.”
Nassau County Police officer Steve Zacchia told The Washington Post on Wednesday morning that Ward was the victim of an “apparent homicide.”
Ward’s body was found about 8 p.m. Tuesday in Farmingdale. Twenty-five minutes later, MTA police notified county police that an adult male was struck and killed by an eastbound Long Island Railroad Train. The tracks were about 1,000 feet from the site where the woman’s body and head were found.
Azzata told the AP that the male was Ward’s 35-year-old son, Derek Ward. Police said that the son had a decade-long psychiatric history, and that they believe Ward stabbed his mother inside her apartment, before dragging her to the street and beheading her.
Law enforcement officials told NBC New York that it appears that the man jumped in front of the train. An investigation is ongoing. The MTA is also investigating the incident, according to Zacchia.
Reports quoting witnesses described the scene Tuesday night. “The body’s feet were at the curb, the shoulders were at the middle of the street. The head was across the street,” Jack Imperial told the New York Daily News. “I’ve seen some gruesome stuff in my years of living … but nothing like this. I didn’t expect to see something like this, especially not out here.”
He added: “I thought it was a Halloween hoax. … It looked staged.”
WBCS 880 spoke to an unidentified neighbor, who said: “I literally thought it was prank. We saw the body on one side and saw the head on the other side. I thought everything was a prank.”
The New York Post spoke to witnesses who said that several neighbors assumed it was some sort of Halloween decoration, “only to lift the lifeless body and discover it was real.”
Abby Phillip contributed to this report.
[This post has been updated]