Violent felon on parole arrested in ‘vicious, unprovoked’ fatal BART stabbing


Police have arrested the suspect wanted in connection with Sunday night’s deadly BART stabbing in Oakland that claimed the life of an 18-year-old girl.

Authorities have captured 27-year-old John Lee Cowell, a transient in the Oakland-Emeryville area. 

A relative of a teen who was fatally stabbed at the MacArthur train station says her cousin was returning home after celebrating her dead boyfriend’s birthday when she was randomly attacked.

Ebony Monroe said Monday her cousins, 18-year-old Nia Wilson and 26-year-old Lahtifa Wilson, were heading home Sunday night on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train after celebrating Wilson’s late boyfriend’s birthday.

Lahtifa Wilson said she and her sister never saw the suspect or exchanged words with him on the subway before he stabbed Nia in the neck.

He then attacked and wounded her.

Lahtifa said she looked back at Cowell after he ran off, and she saw him wiping off his knife.

She said she failed to protect her baby sister, who she described as the “sweetest person on the earth.”

She says she told Nia she loved her.

BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas said that surveillance video shows Cowell striking the sisters and getting away.

Police say Cowell’s criminal record contains a “series of violent offenses.”

Court documents show a restraining order was filed in April 2016 by Kaiser Foundation against Cowell.

Records indicate “civil harassment of employee” as the reason.  

In October of the same year, officials say Cowell was sentenced to two years in prison for second-degree robbery. 

According to court documents, Cowell used a box cutter to rob his victim. 

Officials say he received 159 days of pre, post, and vested credit, the majority of which was granted by the judge in his case, for time served in jail while awaiting to be sentenced. 

He was released on parole in May 2018 after completing the full term of his sentence. 

Police have also recovered what they believe to be the murder weapon. 

It was found at an adjacent construction site, according to BART officials. 

“Now it’s a matter of bringing this individual into custody,” the BART police chief said in a press conference Monday. “We are really seeking justice for Nia.”

The godfather of Nia Wilson also addressed the public, asking the community to be vigilant and come forward with any information. 

“They didn’t ask to get cut or stabbed. Those are baby girls. Those are our children. We need the community to stand down right now. I’m at fear right now. We don’t know if this was racist, if this was random, but we are asking the community to stand down,” he said. 

The BART police chief called this an “unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious attack.”

BART spokesman Jim Allison says a man allegedly attacked the sisters at random as they exited a train at the MacArthur station in Oakland.

Nia Wilson died soon after police arrived, and her sister was taken to a hospital.

Police say Lahtifa Wilson is in stable condition as of Monday afternoon. 

Monroe says her cousin graduated from Oakland High School and was a “beautiful person inside and out.”

>> Click here to see the official GoFundMe page for Nia Wilson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 



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