OAKLAND, California. – The hunt for a man police say killed an 18-year-old woman in an unprovoked knife attack in the San Francisco Bay Area ended up where he started: In a train station.
John Cowell, 27, a recently paroled robber with a violent history, was quietly arrested at a Antioch-bound train Monday night about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the Oakland station where investigators believe he killed Nia Wilson and wounded her sister Sunday night.
“This is the first step to achieving justice for Nia and her family,” Bay Area Rapid Transit police chief Carlos Rojas told reporters.
A phone call from a train rider led police to stop and search a Richmond-bound train at the MacArthur Station in Oakland, but Cowell wasn’t on board, Rojas said.
“About 10 minutes later we got a call, another patron told us that the subject was on an Antioch-bound train,” Rojas said.
That the train was stopped at the Pleasant Hill station in Walnut Park, northeast of Oakland. Cowell was on board and was arrested without incident. It was not immediately known if Cowell had a lawyer.
Asked how a wanted man could have gotten back in the BART system, Rojas said that he did not know immediately, but said that the public transport system is “porous” and large.
Rojas said police officers were at work at the MacArthur station where the attack occurred, but was not sure it could have been prevented by the suddenness of the unprovoked and, possibly, random attack.
In a “prison-style attack,” Nia Wilson was stabbed twice in the neck, and then her sister was attacked on the flight by a perpetrator who apparently removed his pants and sweater to evade capture, Rojas said. The knife is believed to have been used in the attack was found in a nearby construction site.
Letifah Wilson, 26, said that she, Nia, and a third sister had been returning from a family outing when they were “blindsided by a lunatic.”
“He didn’t know us, we didn’t know him,” Wilson said.
“I looked back and he was wiping his knife and stood on the stairs and just looked. From that moment I was caring for my sister,” she told ABC7 News on Monday, speaking outside the family home with a bandage on her neck.
The women of the father, Ansar Mohammed, said one of his daughters called him, crying hysterically, and told him to get to the MacArthur station.
“It is nothing imaginable, seeing your child on the BART platform with a yellow bag over her body,” Mohammed said Monday evening. “That is an image that I will never forget for the rest of my life. So I want justice. All I want is justice.”
Surveillance video on the train and on the station platform showed Cowell had driven the same car as the sisters Sunday, but they did not communicate, Rojas said.
A motive for the attack remained unclear. Rojas said Cowell is not connected to a radical or white supremacist groups, although Rojas added: “We are going to explore all options and all possibilities.”
The victims were black, and Cowell is white.
Monday night, Oakland City Councilmember Lynette McElhaney said she had spoken with the prosecutor and was told that Cowell will be indicted Wednesday and the office is not ruled out charging him with a hate crime.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a declaration to acknowledge that there currently was no evidence that the attack was racist, but “the fact that his victims were both young African-American women stirs deep pain and anguish can be felt in all of us who acknowledge the reality that our country still suffers from a tragic and deeply racist history.”
A Monday evening vigil held at the MacArthur BART station later swelled into a crowd of around a 1,000 marched on the town, police said.
Protesters demonstrated about the alleged abuse and neglect of the city’s large African-American community.
The police said that some people in the audience, was the “disturbing” if two men were held because of a dispute, and some firecrackers thrown but the police broke and the two men were later released.
Cowell was released from state prison on May 6 after completing a two-year sentence for second-degree robbery, said Vicky Waters, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Cowell pulled a knife and a replica of a gun at a supermarket employee confronted him about stealing, court records show.
In 2016, a hospital in Richmond obtained a restraining order against Cowell, who was homeless, for allegedly appears repeatedly in the emergency department, and intimidating and threatening employees, the San Francisco Chronicle.
Cowell also had convictions for battery, under the influence of a controlled substance and assault with a deadly weapon, the East Bay Times reported.
A neighbor, Carol Kincaid of Concord, told the Times that she had known Cowell since he was a baby and that he was “always in trouble.”
His behavior concerned neighbors, especially since he recently returned to his aunt’s house on the other side of the street, Kincaid said.
“He is not good at all,” Kincaid said.
Nia Wilson ‘ s death was the third attack in the BART system in five days, making it one of the deadliest weeks in the system of the history.
On Sunday, a homeless man died after he was beaten by an attacker Saturday on a station in San Leandro, fell down and hit his head on the pavement.
Another man who was attacked last week died on Friday after a minor cut he suffered was infected, the San Francisco Chronicle. An arrest was made in that case and authorities said none of both cases was connected to the plug.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com