Suspect Arrested In Vicious, Deadly Knife Attack On 2 Sisters At BART Station In Oakland

Letifah Wilson, who survived the attack allegedly committed by John Lee Cowell, described it as being “blindsided by a maniac.” 

A California man has been arrested for stabbing two sisters in the neck on a train platform in Oakland, ending a day-long manhunt. One of the victims died.

John Lee Cowell was arrested by Bay Area Rapid Transit police on Monday night after he allegedly stabbed sisters Nia Wilson, 18, and Letifah Wilson, 26, on the platform of the MacArthur station in Oakland, California Sunday, according to a statement by BART police.

Both sisters were stabbed in the neck. Nia died at the scene and Letifah sustained serious injuries and was treated by a local hospital. Cowell has been charged with first degree murder, jail records show.

Police were at the station after receiving a report of a man with a knife. Once they arrived on the platform, however, Cowell had left the scene and the two women had already been stabbed.

Investigators reviewed surveillance tape from the train and the station and were able to identify Cowell, 27, as the suspect.

Cowell was apprehended a day later after police received a tip from an anonymous BART rider who had spotted the him on a train. Police took him into custody without incident on board a BART train, according to police.

The two sisters were returning from a family function when the attack happened, according to CBS News. Letifah, who survived, described the attack as being “blindsided by a maniac.” 

"He didn't know us, we didn't know him," Letifah said. 

According to CBS San Francisco, the two sisters were helping another woman carry a stroller off the train at the time of the attack. 

The violent attack brought widespread condemnation from the public and officials, and the BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas described the attack as one of the most vicious assaults he has seen in 30 years of policing. 

On social media, people speculated that Cowell's attack was racially motivated. Cowell was white and the two victims were black.

According to CBS, Rojas was not able to confirm if the attack was based on racial hostility, but is considering all options in the investigation. 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also came out to condemn the potential racial motive in the attack, according to a statement obtained by KRON4 in Oakland. 

“The fact that his victims were both young African-American women stirs deep pain and palpable fear in all of us who acknowledge the reality that our country still suffers from a tragic and deeply racist history,” Schaaff said.

After speaking with the district attorney, Oakland City Councilmember Lynette McElhaney said in a statement that the DA is was also still considering if Cowell will be charged with a hate crime. 

Cowell had been released from prison in May following a two-year sentence for second-degree robbery and was on parole at the time of the crime, KRON4 reported.

Court records also show a restraining order against him from 2016, citing “civil harassment of an employee” as the reason, according to KRON4.

Police are continuing to investigate the crime and Cowell is being held at the Santa Rita Jail.

[Photo: BART Police]

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