OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — The family and friends of Nia Wilson gathered Friday at an Oakland church for an emotional ceremony remembering the young woman before she was laid to rest.
18-year-old Nia Wilson was fatally stabbed at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland on July 22. Her sister was also injured in the attack.
The suspect, 27-year-old John Lee Cowell, was arrested the following day at the Pleasant Hill BART station. He faces murder and attempted murder charges.
Those gathered offered tearful goodbyes, remembering Wilson with song, prayers and stories about the young woman they call “an angel.”
The service was held at the Acts Full Baptist Church in Oakland and began at 11 a.m.
Nia’s family and friends dressed in white and gold in her memory, while white and gold flowers spelling out her name flanked the casket.
Speakers talked about the impact she had on the world during a short life that was brutally and abruptly ended.
People attending the service said the act of violence that took Nia away shows the racial divide in the community.
“It’s tragic. Every time we continue to say we’ve got to come together and these tragic things continue to occur, so when is it going to stop?” asked Funeral Attendee Gene Hazzard.
“We’ve lost the life of a young girl who was innocently murdered on a BART platform and the community is in mourning,” said attendee Cendric Troupe.
Currently, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office says there is no evidence to show this was a hate crime, but authorities stress they are continuing to investigate.
However, many of the speakers at Nia Wilson’s service at the Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland, which was attended by about 500 people, said they believe the knife attack was racially motivated.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, wrote in a letter to Wilson’s family that was read aloud at the service, “The murder of yet another African American woman is a shame to our country and it must be heard.”
“We all have become targets,” the letter went on. “Local law enforcement must conduct a thorough investigation of this murder to determine if the conduct was motivated by race and it should be prosecuted as a hate crime.”
The audience stood and applauded when Waters statement that, “We must uplift and protect our black women” was read aloud.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who attended the service, told Wilson’s family, “We stand with you demanding justice. There is no peace without justice.”
Lee said, “As a community, we must say ‘no more’ in Nia’s name.”
Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said, “We seek justice to make our city safe for everybody.”
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said Wilson’s death illustrates that, “Black people are subject to a level of violence that is unacceptable and must be stopped.”
Bishop Keith Clark of the Word Assembly Church in Oakland said he was “angry” and “mad” when he learned about Wilson’s death.
Clark, who hosts a program on radio station KMEL, received a standing ovation when he said, “I was hoping they caught him (the suspect in Wilson’s death) but I was hoping the homies caught him first.”
Clark said, “I want justice but I want more than that. I don’t want to turn no cheeks.”
After Clark spoke, Pastor Joseph Cotton of Acts Full Gospel Church, who presided at the service, said, “I say amen to all that.”
Cotton said when he heard about Wilson’s death, “I was ready to throw some blows and more than that.”
According to an obituary that was read aloud at her service, Wilson attended Oakland High School and Dewey Academy, was a spiritual person who read the Bible every day and loved fashion, music and doing makeup.
According to an attorney for Wilson’s family, who plans to sue BART for failing to prevent her death, her dream was to join the military and be an emergency medical technician.
Among those who attended Wilson’s service were BART General Manager Grace Crunican and Alameda County prosecutor Butch Ford, who is handling the case against Cowell.
After the service, 18 doves were released, one for every year Wilson was alive, and a horse-drawn carriage carried her casket to its resting place.
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