During an otherwise calm Sunday evening in Oakland, California, Lahtifa and Nia Wilson became the victims of a senseless and random attack at a BART Station. The pair were minding their own business when 27-year-old John Lee Cowell approached them and stabbed them.
The attack rocked the community of Oakland, but none more so than the surviving sister, Lahtifa. Despite being stabbed in the neck, Lahtifa survived the attack while Nia, who was also stabbed in the neck, died in her arms.
“I’m her protector and I feel like I didn’t protect her,” Lahtifa said in an interview with ABC 7 News. She then recalled her sister’s last moments, yelling her name over and over. “She’s just yelling my name, ‘Tifa, Tifa, Tifa,’ and I said, ‘I got you, baby, I got you.”
Nia died shortly after the attack, despite Lahtifa’s assurances that they were “gonna get through this.”
Nia Wilson was murdered last night at MacArthur @SFBART station in Oakland, CA by a white male still st large. Where is the security footage? Where are his photos & why aren’t they being plastered everywhere? What is BART going to do? #sayhername #niawilson #justiceforniawilson pic.twitter.com/gk1UXQX8Gv
— vegan ice water (@veganwaterpls) July 23, 2018
#NiaWilson – above all else – was a teenage girl. She literally just finished high school weeks ago.
Sadly, I see already gross attempts to demean her character. Shame on any soul-less person doing this.
I reject that. As we all should. pic.twitter.com/ecXLiDBvuM
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) July 24, 2018
Lahtifa and Nia were on the MacArthur platform when Cowell allegedly targeted them at random. According to Lahtifa’s account, after being blindsided by Cowell, she saw him standing on the stairs. “I looked back and he was wiping off his knife and stood at the stairs and just looked,” she recalled.
Don’t call it a “random” stabbing, call it like it is. It was a hate crime. #NiaWilson
— quiyonce (@schoolgurlqxo) July 23, 2018
— Lucas Guilkey (@lucasguilkey) July 24, 2018
According to a press release from the BART Police Department, the 27-year-old suspect was arrested late Monday after an anonymous tip from a BART rider. Cowell was aboard a train heading toward Antioch at the Pleasant Hill Station when the call came in.
My heart breaks for #NiaWilson. And for every black woman and femme that walks home feeling the danger from all sides. This fear we carry is literally building up in our bodies, killing us like a poison if we don’t first face punishment for simply being alive.
— wikipedia brown is not my real name lol (@eveewing) July 24, 2018
Footage of the arrest made its way online and people were quick to point out just how calm the whole thing was. Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) described it as if they were “arresting him like he shoplifted something.”
Here is footage of #NiaWilson murder suspect, white supremacist John Cowell getting arrested. Do you see how relaxed and casual they are arresting this dude? They are arresting him like he shoplifted something pic.twitter.com/KL1CcyjEe4
— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) July 24, 2018
I'm hearing this dude rode the BART all night. Bums do that shit, that means the BART police simply wasn't looking for him. He murdered a woman & basically didn't leave. It took a civilian to spot him and he was literally on the system they're supposed to be protecting all along
— Donald Simmons Jr. (@TheSimmS27) July 24, 2018
They acting like it's the saddest day in the world, that they have to arrest him.
— EXPAT ISRAELITE (@ExpatIsraelite) July 24, 2018
BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas told reporters that Cowell was on parole after being released from prison four months ago. He had been convicted of felony second-degree robbery and, in 2013, was convicted of battery.
Despite claims that Cowell was linked to white supremacist groups, investigators have yet to connect him to any.
Nia Wilson was killed on a platform at a bart station by a white supremacist… but y’all though racism didn’t exist? THIS GIRL WAS STABBED BY A WHITE SUPREMACIST IN OAKLAND.
— Kearah (@ShakearahByLaw) July 23, 2018
“I want justice for my daughter.” – Ansar Mohammed
My heart breaks for Nia Wilson's family.
BART police are searching for the man who killed 18-year-old #NiaWilson and hurt her sister, Latifah.
Have info? Call 911 or 510-464-7011 pic.twitter.com/8RXL44qPUN
— Britni Danielle (@BritniDWrites) July 23, 2018
In response to the attack, before Cowell’s arrest, Nia’s godfather Darryle Allums rallied the public to come together. “We need the community, especially the African American community to stand right now,” he said.
“We don’t know if this was racism, we don’t know if it was random, we don’t know what it was. Let’s get the information to find out what really happened, let’s get the facts so we can deal with this situation.”
In support of Nia and Lahtifa, mourners and protesters took to the streets of the Bay Area. While mostly peaceful, there were minor squabbles between the local police and protesters.
Since the attack, a GoFundMe has been started in honor of Nia.
Please support the Wilson family and the Oakland community.
JUSTICE FOR NIA. https://t.co/qzviR8vVNR
— Jaclyn Corin (@JaclynCorin) July 23, 2018