OAKLAND (CBS SF) — With tears and smiles, the family of Nia Wilson recalled an 18-year-old Monday who had a love for life and a willingness to help others.
Wilson was traveling on BART Sunday night with her older sisters — Latifa and Nishiya — when she stopped to help a woman struggling with a stroller exit a train at Oakland’s MacArthur station.
It was at that moment that a man pulled out a knife, slashed her across the neck and stabbed her sister, Latifa, before fleeing. Nia’s wound proved to be fatal and the randomness and cruelness of the act was not lost on her family.
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“This was a random act, it was cruel. It was a hate crime,” her aunt Brande told KPIX 5 in an exclusive interview. “My niece was out enjoying her day and out of nowhere someone just takes her life.”
BART officials announced Monday evening that the suspect in Sunday night’s fatal stabbing that left one young woman dead and a second in the hospital was taken into custody at the Pleasant Hill BART station.
Earlier, BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas identified the suspect as a local transient, 27-year-old John Lee Cowell and characterized him as a violent felon currently on parole.
Rojas cautioned that investigators have not yet established a motive.
“I know there’s been a lot of conversation on social media regarding that, but I don’t have one piece of evidence that would suggest this is race-related,” said Rojas. “But should that be the case, we will pursue the appropriate hate crimes if they’re applicable.”
Rojas also said that he was shocked at the violence of the attack. He likened it to a prison-yard stabbing.
“As they were transferring at the MacArthur platform, they were approached by and individual with a knife who struck very rapidly,” said the chief. “In my close to 30 years of police experience, it was probably one of the most vicious attacks that I have seen.”
The murder has the family reeling.
“My baby was only 18. She was less than 100 pounds soaking wet. This man just came up and did all this to my baby,” her mother, Alicia Greyson said with tears streaming out of eyes. “My baby didn’t deserve this. She hated BART. She was always saying, ‘Mama, I’m scared of BART.'”
Greyson said Nia was a ‘wonderful’ daughter.
“She wasn’t in trouble, she’s never been to jail,” the grieving mother said. “She was a cheerleader. She played basketball (at Oakland High)…She had her CPR training…She was so smart and gifted.”
The women were returning home from a swimming party and barbecue in Concord when the attack happened, family said.
Nia Wilson used her emergency medical training to save a choking relative, her family fondly recalled.
“It was my uncle’s funeral,” Greyson said. “My little cousins, their grandmother.. a piece of (chicken) got wedged (in her throat). Everybody tried and tried ( to help her) and then it was taking long and I told Nia to go over and help your cousins…She went over there and assessed the situation. She went behind her and did the Heimlich Maneuver and she started coughing. Saved her life.”
Nia Wilson was also excited because she had a job interview all set up for Monday afternoon.
“She had a job interview at 2 p.m. today,” Greyson said between sobs. “It was just a little warehouse job, but you know it was a job. She was only 18. She was so happy (about it)…That’s probably why she was out really enjoying herself (Sunday night).”
A vigil and rally is being held at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland early Monday evening to remember Nia that had already drawn hundreds of attendees as of 5 p.m.