Ke Chieh Meng was spending her Saturday morning as the animal-loving Californian often did: walking her two small dogs through her suburban Riverside neighborhood.

Suddenly, surveillance footage from a neighboring house shows, a stranger approached on the otherwise empty street. Moments later, Meng, 64, lay dying on the sidewalk, fatally stabbed in the stomach.

Police soon arrested Stephanie Montoya, a 23-year-old homeless woman who had been charged days earlier in another attack and then released from jail under the county’s covid-19 protocols.

Although the attack comes during an upswell of racist assaults and threats against Asian Americans, police said their early investigation didn’t suggest race was a factor in Meng’s killing.

“The suspect is homeless from L.A. County and is obviously experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues,” said Riverside Police officer Ryan Railsback, Patch.com reported. “The attack could have happened to anyone.”

The United States is no stranger to anti-Asian racism. As early as 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigration for 10 years. (Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

But as police continue to investigate, Meng’s family is demanding answers about Montoya’s motive — and about why she was released so quickly from custody after allegedly assaulting someone else days earlier.

“Why was it her? Was it because she is elderly and she can’t fight back? Was it that she was an easy target? Was it that she was Asian?” Meng’s son, Yi Bai, told KNBC. “I don’t really know why she was attacked.”

Thousands of race-related attacks against Asian Americans have been reported during the pandemic, a trend many have linked to former president Donald Trump’s repeated use of racist terms while casting blame on China for the public health emergency.

Last week, a homeless New York man was charged with hate crimes after allegedly stomping a 65-year-old Asian American woman while yelling, “You don’t belong here.” That case came two weeks after a gunman killed eight people at Atlanta-area spas, including six Asian women.

Meng had lived for about 11 years in Riverside, KNBC reported, after immigrating to the United States. “She came here to this country to give me my American Dream,” Bai said.

Just before 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, she was walking her two dogs in Riverside’s La Sierra neighborhood when she was attacked, Riverside police said in a new release. Surveillance video shows a figure in dark clothing crossing the street and quickly walking up to Meng just before she was stabbed.

Passersby soon called paramedics, who found Meng with stab wounds to the abdomen, police said. They rushed her to a hospital, where she died.

Later that morning, residents in the area called authorities to report a “suspicious” homeless woman walking through their yards, leading police to Montoya.

She was familiar to Riverside police — just four days earlier, they had arrested her under a nearby highway overpass after she allegedly used a skateboard as a weapon while attacking a woman. Montoya was charged with assault with a deadly weapon in that case, but was quickly released with a citation and a court date. Police did not report the race of the woman they say was attacked in that case.

As covid-19 cases soared in the confined spaces of L.A. jails last year, authorities moved to dramatically cut the number of people held in the facilities — a move hailed by civil rights leaders and public health authorities.

“Our population within our jail is a vulnerable population just by virtue of who they are and where they’re located,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at the time. “So we’re protecting that population from potential exposure.”

Meng’s family, though, questioned whether Montoya should have been more closely monitored as a potential threat to the community after her release last week.

“This was not a year ago. This is literally a week ago,” Bai told KNBC, referring to her previous arrest, noting his alarm that she “was let go, with no supervision.”