Police in California are searching for a suspect who they believe randomly stabbed two sisters—one fatally—as they stepped off an Oakland BART train Sunday night.
Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Chief Carlos Rojas announced Monday that John Cowell, 27, is believed to have fatally stabbed Nia Wilson, 18, and seriously wounded her sister, Latifa, in what he compared to a “prison yard assault.” Sources told The Mercury News that the deadly incident was “very clearly” caught by surveillance cameras.
Latifa recalled Cowell “wiping off his knife” after stabbing her in the neck and mortally wounding her younger sister. The surviving sister said the woman who she and Nia helped off the train gave her a baby blanket so she could apply pressure to her neck.
“She’s just yelling my name, ‘Tifah, Tifah, Tifah,’ and I said, ‘I got you baby, I got you,'” Latifa recounted, according to KGO.
She claimed she told her dying sister, “We’re gonna get through this, I got you, you’re my baby sister.”
Nia died at the scene while Latifa was rushed to the hospital. Latifa said they were “blindsided” by the attack as they had no prior words with Cowell.
The victims’ aunt went on to tell KPIX that Nia and Latifa were the victims of a hate crime. However, police haven’t confirmed or denied whether race played a factor in Sunday’s attack.
“Missed the artery, thank God, missed the veins, it’s pretty deep and he tried to swing twice hit me in my head, so I have a knot in my head,” Latifa said of her injuries.
“I want justice for my sister.”
While authorities released still images showing a suspect, the police chief said Sunday’s footage wouldn’t be disseminated to the public.
The knife used in the attack was located at a nearby construction attack, according to Rojas. The newspaper reported that a backpack left at the scene helped police identify Cowell as their suspect.
Police described Cowell as 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing 190 pounds, and having short dark hair and a cropped beard and mustache. Anyone who sees him should call 911 immediately as Rojas called him a “violent felon.”
Authorities said Cowell recently completed a two-year prison bid for robbery. The prison sentence stemmed from a May 2016 incident where he pulled a box cutter and fake hun on a loss prevention officer at a business in El Cerrito. In 2016, a Richmond hospital sought a restraining order against him for repeatedly threatening to kill an employee.
The Mercury News reported that Cowell also has prior arrests for vandalism, petty theft, and possession of a controlled substance.
Alarmingly, The San Francisco Chronicle recently discovered that the teen’s slaying was possibly the third homicide to take place on a BART train in five days. Criticized for possibly withholding this information, Rojas told The Chronicle in an interview it was only until Sunday that he had the liberty to disclose these incidents.
“We just wanted to make sure that we were giving you all the information and being as transparent as possible,” he said during Monday’s press conference.
“Because this is really an anomaly. This doesn’t happen on BART. It’s rare that we have a homicide, so of course, this is ramped up to the highest priority when you have three deaths.”
[Featured Image: John Lee Cowell/Bart Police Department; Nia Wilson/Facebook]