An 18-year-old Black woman died after a man allegedly stabbed her without provocation Sunday night on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train station in Oakland, CA.
Nia Wilson and her sister Letifah, 26, were traveling home from a family event when they were reportedly attacked by John Lee Cowell, a 27-year-old white felon with a history of violence, at the BART MacArthur Station. Both Nia and Letifah were stabbed in the neck, but only Nia's wounds were fatal. She died at the scene.
"She's just yelling my name, ‘Tifah, Tifah, Tifah.’ And I said, ‘I got you baby, I got you,'" Letifah told ABC7 News. She added: "I'm her protector and I feel like I didn't protect her."
Cowell was apprehended by police on Monday evening. The authorities still don't have a motive for the crime.
"Everything that we’ve uncovered up to this point, we see no altercation," BART police Chief Carlos Rojas said at a press conference Monday. "We don’t have any information that there was any type of dispute. It looks like it was an unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious attack."
Rojas told reporters there's no evidence at the moment connecting Cowell to "any type of radical group or to a white supremacist group," but authorities are exploring all possible angles.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets Monday to pay tribute to Nia and demand justice for her killing. Even though authorities haven't found whether the women's race played a role in the attack, many addressed the racial dynamics of the crime: Cowell, a young white man, attacked two young Black women.
Daryle Allums, Nia's godfather, made a plea to the community to stand down while the investigation goes on.
"We don’t know if it’s racist, we don’t know if this was random. We don’t know what it was, but we’re asking the African American community to stand down right now," he said at a press conference. "Let’s get this information to find out what really happened."
In a statement, Mayor Libby Schaaf sent her condolences to Nia's family and addressed the fears the attack might have been racially motivated.
"As the Mayor of Oakland, it’s important I acknowledge that this horrific crime has a context, she said. "Although investigators currently have no evidence to conclude that this tragedy was racially motivated or that the suspect was affiliated with any hate groups, the fact that his victims were both young African American women stirs deep pain and palpable fear in all of us who acknowledge the reality that our country still suffers from a tragic and deeply racist history."
A memorial was enacted outside of the station with calls for justice for Nia.
Nia had just graduated from Oakland High School. Her family said she was interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice or law. She was also a lover of makeup and dance.
A a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $9,000 was set up to help Nia's family. It had raised $22,000 as of time of publication.