Community Joins Hands and Prayers to Remember Nia Wilson

By Lauren Richardson  and James Burch
An Oakland #SayHerName vigil was called Monday, July 23, by the Community Ready Corps (CRC) and the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) to honor the life of Nia Wilson, the 18-year-old African-American woman who was murdered at the MacArthur Street BART station in Oakland Sunday.
More than 1,000 community members gathered at the vigil at the MacArthur BART station to demand justice for Nia Wilson. A gathering of flowers, stuffed animals, candles, posters and balloons remains erected in her memory at the station.The event page for the vigil read:

“Nia is the second Black woman brutally murdered in the Bay Area over the last couple of days. We are inviting community to come hold space, light a candle and be together in our collective grief. We also know that we are each other’s best defense…We stand in solidarity with and in support of Nia’s family. We know who we are as a City. Let’s stand together in our love for each other and protection of each other.”

Many expressed concern about how to remain safe, and many were concerned that the murder may have been racially motivated.

“Now, I know we don’t know what the motivation was, but I can’t ignore the fact that for a year, we have been fighting back white fascists and Nazis from coming into our town,” Cat Brooks said as she opened the vigil. “And I can’t ignore the fact that a Black child was murdered by a white man. I will not stop talking about what happens to Black female bodies in this city.”

Police identified and later arrested John Lee Cowell, a 27-year-old white male with a documented history of violence and mental illness, for the murder.

The assailant also stabbed Wilson’s sister Latifah, who survived the incident.

Wilson, the youngest of six sisters and two brothers, was an Oakland High School graduate. She had plans to become a lawyer or maybe pursue another criminal-justice-related career. She also loved makeup and fashion and one day hoped to have her own cosmetics line.

Wilson’s murder comes in the wake of the murder of Kishana Harley, a Black mother of four who was found dead in her Richmond apartment last Friday.

News spread quickly Sunday night of the fatal stabbing at the MacArthur BART Station. BART officials began investigating the incident but did not release detailed information about the suspect until 12:35 p.m., Monday afternoon, at the BART Police Headquarters.

At the press conference, BART Police Chief, Carlos Rojas informed the public that the suspect had been identified as 27-year-old John Lee Cowell, a transient man with a violent criminal record.

Although the surveillance video was not released, Rojas described a “Prison styled attack” that lead to the injury of 26-year-old Latifah Wilson and the fatal attack on Nia Wilson.

Surveillance video shows the suspect also boarded the same train on the same car as the sisters.  Rojas said that Cowell was “not acting erratic or animated” before the attack and had not had any interaction with the young women prior to the incident.

As the young women transferred trains at the MacArthur street station, Cowell is seen attacking both of the sisters from behind. Nia Wilson succumbed to her injuries on the MacArthur Station platform. Latifah, who was also stabbed in the neck, was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Most of the riders on the train were unable to identify the suspect because the attack happened so fast. However, the video footage showed Cowell fleeing the scene through the BART parking lot where he changed clothes and discarded the weapon at a construction site before leaving BART premises.

After the release of the Cowell’s photo, a BART rider called in to report that the suspect was aboard a train leaving the Coliseum BART station. That train was intercepted at the MacArthur Street station, while protests were being held below, but Cowell escaped to another train.

Another tip was received from another BART rider led officers to Cowell on a train at the Pleasant Hill Station. Officers approached him and escorted him off of the train in an uneventful arrest.

Cowell, a felon with a violent record who was only released from prison four months ago, was scheduled to be arraigned at the Wiley M. Manuel Courthouse in Downtown Oakland on Wednesday, July 26. His arraignment on multiple charges was rescheduled for Aug. 22. He is represented by the public defender’s office.


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