OAKLAND, Calif. — A 27-year-old man suspected of stabbing two women in the throat, killing one of them, at a public transit station in Oakland, California, has been charged with murder.
Nia Wilson, 18, was walking on the subway platform with her sisters when a man stabbed her with a knife in an unprovoked, fatal attack on Sunday, according to Bay Area Rapid Transit officials. Her sister, Letifah Wilson, was also stabbed and seriously injured.
The suspect, John Cowell, faces charges of murder and attempted murder.
Cowell was seen on surveillance video stabbing Wilson and her sister before running from the scene, according to documents provided by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas called it “one of the most vicious attacks that I’ve seen,” during a Monday news conference.
The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office is representing Cowell and is not making any comment at this time, per attorney Jeff Chorney.
The stabbing marked the third death in less than a week from unrelated attacks on the Bay Area transit system, known as BART.
Letifah Wilson told CNN affiliate KGO that they had never seen the suspect nor exchanged any words with him when they were “blindsided … for what I don’t know.”
After the attack, she looked back and said he was “wiping off his knife and stood at the stairs.”
The attack triggered an intense search for the suspect earlier this week.
The suspect had discarded a backpack and his sweatshirt at the station’s parking structure, and several of the items had a name and date of birth, according to police. Cowell was arrested the next day after a passenger spotted him riding on BART.
Cowell was convicted of second-degree robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in 2016, according to the criminal complaint. He was paroled in May after being sentenced to two years in prison for second-degree robbery, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton.
Cowell is white and the Wilson sisters are black, but police have said no motive has been established.
“If there is evidence uncovered that this defendant murdered and attempted to murder these two young African-American women because of their race or any other factor as outlined in the hate crime statutes, the complaint will be amended to allege the hate crimes,” according to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
Wilson’s father told CNN affiliate KRON his daughter was “everything to me.”
“I am supposed to be planning her graduation, not her funeral,” said Ansar El Muhammad. “Basically all I want is justice for my daughters.”
Cowell’s family told KRON he had been “suffering from mental illness” most of his life, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and that he had recently been living on the streets without proper treatment.