The man believed to have slit the throat of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at an Oakland BART station on Sunday night was arrested without incident Monday night.
Police apprehended 27-year-old John Lee Cowell, a paroled felon, on a BART train nearly 24 hours after he allegedly attacked sisters Nia and Letifah Wilson in a vicious stabbing at the MacArthur station in Oakland. An anonymous caller had tipped police that Cowell had boarded an Antioch-bound train, reports the San Francisco Gate.
In a news conference Monday afternoon, BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas referred to the deadly stabbing as a “prison-style attack” that was among “the most vicious” he had ever seen in 30 years of policing.
Letifah Wilson, 26, who was also stabbed in the neck but survived the assault, described Cowell’s demeanor immediately following the attack to ABC 7 News.
“I looked back, and he was wiping off his knife and stood at the stairs and just looked — and from there on, I was just caring for my sister. I was in shock. ... I didn’t know I was cut because I was paying more attention to my sister. But he just stood there, like it was nothing.”
As the Washington Post reports, the Wilson sisters didn’t normally ride the BART train, but opted to take it that night on the way home from a family gathering.
Wilson’s mother, Alicia Grayson, told the East Bay Times that Nia didn’t like the BART.
“She was scared of the BART,” Grayson said through tears. “Now I see why.”
Protesters rallied to pay tribute to Nia and to demand justice for her senseless, violent death. The racial dynamic of the killing—Cowell, a young white man, selecting two young black women to prey upon—wasn’t missed by many.
Singer and Oakland native Kehlani spoke passionately about the attack on social media, criticizing BART officials for not acting sooner to catch Cowell and referring to him as a “white supremacist.”
Footage shared on Twitter by Lucas Guilkey, a video journalist and producer for AJ Plus, shows part of a rally where Letifah blasted a song Nia had recorded. The crowd can be seen dancing to Nia’s rapping underneath a large red and white sign that read, “Bay Area Stands Against Hate And White Supremacy For Solidarity, Justice, and Dignity.”
Daryle Allums, Nia Wilson’s godfather and head of Oakland’s Stop Killing Our Kids group, was among the protesters who took the streets Monday night.
Allums said Wilson’s death had rattled the Bay Area, but cautioned people not to jump to conclusions about why she died.
“We don’t know if this was racist,” Allums said. “Let’s get this information to find out what really happened. Let’s find out the right facts to then be able to deal with this situation.”
BART police previously described the attack as “random,” but Rojas told reporters authorities “cannot discount” that the attack was race-motivated. In the immediate aftermath of Cowell’s arrest, officers have yet to tie Cowell to “any type of radical group or white supremacist group.”