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A transient woman accused in a fatal knifing of an Asian woman in California on Saturday was jailed days earlier on assault charges but had been freed without bail because of COVID-19 restrictions, authorities said.
Darlene Stephanie Montoya, 23, allegedly stabbed 64-year-old Ke Chieh Meng to death as she walked her two dogs in Riverside, California on April 3.
Meng was found with several stab wounds in her abdomen area in the city’s La Sierra neighborhood around 7:30 a.m. She was rushed to hospital where she later died.
Meng lived in the neighborhood, according to police. After she didn’t return home, her family canvassed the area and ultimately stumbled upon the crime scene when they saw the police in the area.
“The family started going out looking for her because she hadn’t returned back,” Officer Ryan J. Railsback told Oxygen.com on Monday.
Montoya, who allegedly fled the area, was arrested nearby after neighbors reported her for acting suspiciously and loitering.
Police don’t suspect the deadly stabbing was a hate crime and that Montoya “randomly confronted” Meng while she was on her walk.
“Our detectives, after interviewing the suspect and going through all the evidence, and everything, they have found nothing to suggest that the victim was targeted strictly for her ethnicity,” Railsback said.
Meng’s death follows a rise in hate crimes targeting Asians in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, a white gunman massacred eight people, primarily of Asian descent, at a trio of massage parlors in the Atlanta area.
Meng was planning to visit a recently welcomed grandchild, her son said in a GoFundMe page created in the wake of her death.
"She was so excited to be a grandmother, so excited to watch me become a dad, so excited to retire, and most importantly, finally live out her American dream as well," Yi (James) Bai wrote. "She was supposed to visit me in May, now that she has finally got her COVID Vaccine, but now she will never be able to do so."
Officials, who didn’t specify an exact motive in the knife attack, said Montoya is experiencing homelessness.
“We believe the suspect did what she did, and committed this murder, her mental health issues and her substance abuse issues probably have something to do with it,” Railsback said.
Montoya was arrested on suspicion of murder, using a weapon during the commission of a felony, and being under the influence of an illegal substance. She hasn’t been formally charged.
Montoya has an alleged history of “violent” behavior, authorities said. On March 30, she was arrested for attacking a separate individual with her skateboard near a shopping center, according to law enforcement.
“We found her, we arrested her, we booked her into jail,” Railsback explained.
That incident occurred only a few miles away from where Meng was killed; police confirmed the victim in the incident wasn’t Asian. Montoya was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, however, she was ultimately released with a citation because of the situation within the jail.
“This is a horrible tragedy that should have never happened,” Railsback added. “These current bail schedules — directed by the state and set by courts — because of the COVID pandemic, she was released on a citation from jail. If we weren’t under these special rules for the bail schedule right now there’s probably a good chance the suspect would still be in custody ... and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to commit violence against anyone else. It’s tragic any way you look at it.”
Montoya was booked into Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on April 3, according to online jail records. She's being held without bail.
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