On Sunday night, Nia Wilson and two of her sisters were on their way home from a family gathering when two of them were viciously stabbed while in a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train station in Oakland, California. Nia, just 18, succumbed to her injuries, while her 26-year-old sister, Letifah, survived the assault.
Their other sister was unharmed.
In an interview with the local ABC News affiliate, Letifah said the man never uttered a word before attacking them.
“All of a sudden, we transfer just to get blindsided by a maniac, for what I don’t know,” she said.
“I looked back and he was wiping off his knife and stood at the stairs and just looked. From then on I was caring for my sister.”
As police still investigate what motivated this horrific crime, here are 4 things we know about Nia and her tragic murder so far.
Who was Nia Wilson?
Nia Wilson was a beloved daughter, sister, and friend. According to her family she had just graduated from Oakland High School, and wanted to be a “lawyer or do something in criminal justice.”
Nia’s sister, Letifah, described her younger sibling as “the most sweetest person on the earth” and reiterated that “she didn’t do nothing to nobody” to provoke the attack.
Nia also loved music and was an aspiring rapper. At a vigil held Monday night in Oakland, Nia’s sister played some of her music for the crowd.
Who attacked Nia and Latifah Wilson?
Soon after the stabbing, BART police identified 27-year-old John Lee Cowell from surveillance videos in the station. After a day-long search, Cowell was arrested Monday evening at another BART station, thanks to an anonymous tip.
Cowell was released from prison just four months ago.
After attacking Nia and Letifah, he was arrested on charges of first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon and violation of parole. He is slated to be arraigned on Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.
Was the attack racially motivated?
When news of the incident spread across social media, many indicated Nia and Letifah were attacked by a white supremacist. Singer Kehlani–an Oakland native–blasted BART officials, arguing, they manage “to catch riders who haven’t paid ticket fair, young graffiti artists, you can catch a murderer. give her family some peace and get a murderous white supremacist (sic) off of oakland streets.”
Despite the optics of a white man targeting two Black women, BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas said police just don’t know whether the attack was racially motivated.
“Up to this point, we do not have any information that suggests it is race-motivated, but we cannot discount it at this time,” he said during a press conference on Monday.
Daryle Allums, Nia’s godfather, called on the Black community to wait for the answers before reacting to speculation about whether or not the attack was motivated by hate.
“We don’t know if it was racist, we don’t know if it was random, we don’t know what it was,” Allums said in a new conference with Rojas. “Let’s get this information to find out what really happened. Let’s find out the right facts, so then we’re able to deal with this situation.”
The community is enraged
Despite law enforcement’s assertion that it’s too early to tell whether the crime was motivated by hate, the community is angry. On Monday, protesters took to the streets to remember Nia and demand justice.
“I feel that the community has failed people of color for one. I feel that BART has failed us from the beginning with Oscar Grant,” Jinina Knox, a friend of Wilson’s family told local news. “How do we let a man get on BART, slit a woman’s throat, stab her to death, and walk off through our community and no stopping him?”
About 1000 people took place in the demonstration, which began at the scene of the attack before moving to downtown Oakland.