Nia Wilson was the youngest of six sisters and two brothers, but she knew how to stand out. She jumped at the chance to help others, one of her sisters said, offering pep talks to her sisters when they were down and performing the Heimlich maneuver on her aunt as she was choking at a recent family party. She loved to look pretty, even if it meant holding up everyone else until she picked out the perfect outfit for a late-night run to the grocery store.
At 18, Nia still had the bulk of her life ahead her and she had big plans — joining the Army or becoming a paramedic, or maybe a music producer would see her rap videos on YouTube and offer a record deal. But on Sunday night, Nia was attacked and killed by a man with a knife after stepping off a train with two of her sisters at an Oakland, Calif., transit station. One of her sisters, Lahtifa Wilson, 26, was also stabbed. She was taken to a hospital but later released. Three days after Nia’s death, her sister Malika Harris said that her family was struggling to process what had happened and to accept that she was gone. In any other situation, her sister said, they would be turning to Nia for comfort.
“She was always there and motivating you and telling you to stay positive,” Ms. Harris, who was not with her on the train, said in an interview on Wednesday.
As her family finalized funeral plans for Nia on Wednesday, the man accused of stabbing her, John Lee Cowell, was formally charged with murder and attempted murder. Mr. Cowell, 27, made his first appearance in an Oakland court at an arraignment hearing on Wednesday afternoon. He did not enter a plea.
Nia’s father, Ansar Muhammad, went to the courthouse to attend the hearing.
“My daughter was everything to me,” Mr. Muhammad told reporters outside a courtroom. “She was so beautiful, so inspirational, had dreams. I’m supposed to be planning her graduation, not her funeral.”
The Bay Area Rapid Transit police arrested Mr. Cowell, who they said was homeless and had a lengthy criminal record, on Monday evening after a nearly 24-hour, citywide manhunt. His family released a statement to a local TV station that said Mr. Cowell had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and had not received recent proper mental health treatment.
Ms. Harris said she believed that the fatal attack on Nia, who was black, should be classified as a hate crime. “They are trying to say that he was sick and crazy,” she said. “It was an act of racism.”
After the arrest on Monday of Mr. Cowell, who is white, the police said that they were still searching for a motive and had not ruled out race as a factor.