OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – The wounded sister of an 18-year-old woman fatally stabbed in the neck while transferring trains said she never noticed the felon who authorities say attacked the sisters at random.
Lahtifa Wilson, 26, said that she, her baby sister Nia and a third sister had been returning from a family outing when they were “blindsided by a maniac” who struck Nia first before attacking Lahtifa.
Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Chief Carlos Rojas said Monday that officers are scouring the area for John Cowell, 27, who is suspected in the Sunday night attack at the MacArthur Station in Oakland.
“I looked back and he was wiping off his knife and stood at the stairs and just looked. From then on, I was caring for my sister,” Wilson told ABC7 News on Monday, speaking outside a family member’s home with a bandage on her neck.
Wilson said a woman with a stroller gave her a baby blanket to apply pressure to her sister’s neck, but Nia Wilson died calling out her sister’s name for help.
Wilson said she told her sister she loved her.
“We’re gonna get through this, I got you, you’re my baby sister,” she said.
Surveillance video on the train and at the station’s platform showed Cowell had been riding the same car as the sisters, but they did not interact, Rojas said.
As the group got on the platform, Cowell quickly attacked them. “It looks like it was an unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious attack,” Rojas said.
Surveillance footage showed Cowell fleeing the station through a parking lot and stripping off his clothes there. Detectives recovered a knife they believed was used in the attack at a nearby construction site, Rojas said.
The women’s father, Ansar Muhammad, said one of his daughters called him, crying hysterically, and told him to get to the MacArthur station.
“I get here and I see all the police and ambulance and I ran up the platform and I see my youngest daughter laying up on their tarp, dead,” he told KTVU through tears. “I want justice for my daughter. I want justice for my daughter. Please, help me get justice for my daughter.”
Rojas said that Cowell, who he described “as a violent felon who is currently on parole,” was cited for fare evasion on July 18 and his photo was captured by an officer’s body camera.
BART officials released that image and another one from surveillance video that shows him at MacArthur station Sunday night dressed in a white and gray sweatshirt and carrying a backpack.
Cowell recently completed a jail sentence for his conviction on a 2016 robbery in Contra Costa County. He also had prior arrests in Alameda County, as well as warrants out for his arrest, the East Bay Times reported.
Rojas said investigators were trying to determine what led to the attack. They have no information it was racially motivated, but they are not discarding that as a possible motive, he said.
Cowell is a white man who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 190 pounds, authorities said. He has short, dark hair, a closely cropped beard and a mustache. The Wilson sisters are black.
Officers on Monday were watching several addresses for him in two counties, but he is also listed as homeless, Rojas said.
Cowell is considered dangerous. BART officials asked anyone who comes into contact with him to call 911.
Daryle Allums, of the Stop Killing Our Kids organization and godfather of Nia Wilson, said a vigil would be held at the train station.
“We don’t know if this is racist. We don’t know if it was random. We don’t know what it is,” he said. “We’re asking the African-American community to stand down right now. Let’s get this information and find out what really happened.”
Ebony Monroe, a cousin of the victims, initially said the third sister, 21-year-old Tashiya Wilson, had been injured but authorities later said it was Lahtifa.
Monroe was among several relatives who went to the train station Sunday night after hearing about the attack. She said the Wilson sisters were returning home after celebrating Nia’s late boyfriend’s birthday. He drowned in a lake two years ago, Monroe said.
Monroe, 24, said her cousin attended Oakland High School and loved her family, dancing and makeup.
“She was a beautiful person inside and out, and she didn’t deserve it,” Monroe said.
A man who witnessed the attack told them the suspect came out of nowhere and slit Nia’s throat while she was sitting down in the train and that he stabbed her sister as she tried to stop him, she said.
“She died for no reason,” Monroe said. “We want to see justice.”
This version of the story corrects the last name of Ansar Muhammad.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com