It was not until 1:30 a.m. that night that a female jogger was found in the North Woods area of the park. She had been pulled to the north some 300 feet off the path known as the 102nd Street Crossing; the path of her feet dragged through the grass was marked so clearly that it could be photographed. It was 18" wide. There was no evidence in the grass of footprints of multiple perpetrators. She was brutally beaten, suffering major blood loss and skull fractures; she was later revealed to have been raped.

Trisha Meili was going for a regular run in Central Park shortly before 9 p.m. While jogging in the park, she was knocked down, dragged nearly 300 feet (91 m) off the roadway, and violently assaulted. She was raped and beaten almost to death. About four hours later at 1:30 am, she was found naked, gagged, and tied, and covered in mud and blood, in a shallow ravine in a wooded area of the park about 300 feet north of the path called the 102nd Street Crossing. The first policeman who saw her said: "She was beaten as badly as anybody I've ever seen beaten. She looked like she was tortured."

David Lewis, the banker, attacked and robbed about 9:25–9:40 Robert Garner, attacked about 9:30 p.m. David Good, attacked about 9:47 p.m. John Loughlin, the 40-year-old teacher, severely beaten and kicked about 9:40–9:50 p.m. near the reservoir and left unconscious. He was also robbed of a Walkman and other items.

At 9 p.m. on April 19, 1989, a group of an estimated 30 – 32 teenagers who lived in East Harlem entered Manhattan's Central Park at an entrance in Harlem, near Central Park North. Some of the group committed several attacks, assaults, and robberies against persons walking, biking, or jogging in the northernmost part of the park and near the reservoir, and victims began to report the incidents to police. Within the North Woods, between 105th and 102nd streets, they were reported as attacking several bicyclists, hurling rocks at a cab, and attacking a pedestrian, whom they robbed of his food and beer, and left unconscious. The teenagers roamed south along the park's East Drive and the 97th Street transverse, between 9 and 10 p.m.

Michael Vigna, a competitive bike rider hassled about 9:05 p.m. by the group, one of whom tried to punch him. Antonio Diaz, a 52-year-old man walking in the park near 105th Street, was knocked to the ground by teenagers about 9:15 p.m., who stole his bag of food and bottle of beer. He was left unconscious but soon found by a policeman. Gerald Malone and Patricia Dean, riding on a tandem bike, were attacked on East Drive south of 102nd Street about 9:15 p.m. by boys who tried to stop them and grab Dean; the couple called police after reaching a call box.

The police were dispatched at 9:30 pm and responded with scooters and unmarked cars. Through the night, they apprehended about 20 teenagers. They took custody of Raymond Santana, 14; and Kevin Richardson, 14; along with three other teenagers at approximately 10:15 pm on Central Park West and 102nd Street. Steven Lopez, 14, was arrested with this group within an hour of the several attacks that were first reported to the police. He was also interrogated.

At least some of the group traveled further south to the area around the reservoir, where four men jogging were attacked by several youths. Among the victims was John Loughlin, a 40-year-old schoolteacher, who was severely beaten and robbed between 9:40 and 9:50. He was hit in the head with a pipe and stick, knocking him briefly unconscious. At a pre-trial hearing in October 1989, a police officer testified that when Loughlin was found, he was bleeding so badly that he "looked like he was dunked in a bucket of blood".

After her discovery, the police increased the intensity of their effort to identify suspects in this attack and took more teenagers into custody. The jogger was not identified for about 24 hours, and it took days for the police to retrace her movements of that night. By the time of the trial of the first three suspects in June 1990, The New York Times characterized the attack on the jogger as "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s".

On April 21, senior police investigators held a press conference to announce having apprehended about 20 suspects in the attacks of a total of nine people in Central Park two nights before, and began to offer their theory of the attack and rape of the female jogger. Her name was withheld as a victim of a sex crime. The police said up to 12 youths were believed to have attacked the jogger.

Meili was comatose for 12 days. She suffered severe hypothermia, severe brain damage, severe hemorrhagic shock, loss of 75–80 percent of her blood, and internal bleeding. Her skull had been fractured so badly that her left eye was dislodged from its socket, which in turn was fractured in 21 places, and she suffered as well from facial fractures.

On May 1, 1989, Donald Trump, the real estate magnate, called for the return of the death penalty in full-page advertisements published in all four of the city's major newspapers. Trump said he wanted the "criminals of every age" who were accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park 12 days earlier "to be afraid". The advertisement, which cost an estimated US$85,000 (equivalent to $172,000 in 2018).

Michael Briscoe, 17, was initially arrested for the rape of the female jogger, but his indictment was for riot and assault related to the attack of David Lewis, one of the four male joggers near the reservoir. In a plea deal arranged in June 1990, he pleaded guilty to assault and was immediately sentenced to a year in prison, with credit for time served.

Jermaine Robinson, 15, was indicted on multiple counts of robbery and assault in the attacks on Lewis and John Loughlin, another jogger near the reservoir. In a plea deal, he pleaded guilty on October 5, 1989, to the robbery of Loughlin and was sentenced to a year in a juvenile facility.

Six youths were indicted with attempted murder and other charges in the attack on and rape of the female jogger, and additional charges related to the attack of David Lewis, the attack and robbery of John Loughlin, and riot: Steve Lopez, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise.

In June 1990, Antron McCray, (15 African-American), Yusef Salaam, 15 (African-American), Korey Wise (then known as Kharey Wise), 16, (African-American) Raymond Sanana, 14 (African-American) Kevin Richardson 14 (Hispanic), they came to trial and faced prosecutors, with no previous arrest record, they were all found guilty based on evidence and recorded confessions. Years later, another man Michael Briscoe, 17 (African American) was identified as the rapist.

When They See Us is a 2019 American drama web television miniseries created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, that premiered in four parts on May 31, 2019. It is based on events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five male suspects who were falsely accused then prosecuted on charges related to the rape and assault of a woman in Central Park, New York City. The series features an ensemble cast, including Jharrel Jerome, Asante Black, Jovan Adepo, Michael K. Williams, Logan Marshall-Green, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Marsha Stephanie Blake, and Kylie Bunbury.