Suspect arrested in deadly BART stabbing of teenager and sister

UPDATE: John Lee Cowell, the suspect in the fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson was arrested at the Pleasant Hill BART station this afternoon, BART police announced at 6:45 p.m. on Twitter.

Cowell was located on an Antioch-bound train based on an anonymous tip from a BART passenger, police said.

Police are expected to release further details later this evening. -Editor


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Hours after a teenager was fatally stabbed in the neck while walking off a BART train with her sisters, transit police on Monday identified the suspect in the random attack as a violent convicted felon who is still at large.

John Lee Cowell, a 27-year-old homeless man who is based in the Bay Area, is accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Nia Wilson and injuring one of her sisters at MacArthur BART Station at around 9:36 p.m. on Sunday.

“It was, in my close to 30 years of police experience, probably one of the most vicious attacks I have ever seen,” BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas said at an afternoon news conference. “There’s great, great video and there’s no doubt in my mind that this individual is the killer and we’re going to bring him to justice.”

Rojas described the stabbings as “horrible” attacks that unfolded quickly and without provocation. Rojas said the suspect was not acting erratically before the stabbing and entered the train at the same time as the sisters at Concord Station.

Rumors spread quickly on social media that the attack may have been based on race. Wilson was black, while Cowell is described as a white man standing 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 190 pounds. He has short dark hair and a closely cropped beard and mustache, according to police.

But Rojas told reporters that police have not identified a motive for the killing. “We do not have any information that suggests that it is race motivated, but we can’t discount it at this time,” Rojas said.

Daryle Allums, an anti-violence organizer in Oakland who said he was Wilson’s godfather, told reporters that, “We don’t know if this is racist, we don’t know if this is random, we don’t know what it was.”

“We’re asking the African American community to stand down right now,” Allums said, calling on the community to instead send his family support and prayers. “We don’t need us to break down right now, tear up our city.”

Rojas told reporters the suspect escaped the scene through the parking lot. He said the suspect stripped off clothing before leaving, suggesting “he knows that the police are responding and he’s done something bad.”

Police released images of Cowell at the press conference, including a still from body-camera footage of an encounter between a BART fare inspector and Cowell on July 18. Cowell was suspected of fare evasion.

Allums warned that GoFundMe pages fundraising for Wilson’s family are fake. The family has not yet established an account.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Michael Barba
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