Refugee stabbed to death in Toronto remembered by friends, family
An Eritrean refugee who was seemingly stabbed to death at random in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood is being remembered by friends and colleagues as a kind woman and a hard worker.
Police identified the victim as 55-year-old Nighisti Semret, a mother of four, during a press conference Wednesday. Semret had only been in the country for about three years.
“She’s a very nice lady,” said friend Saba Belay, as she wiped away tears. “She’s very nice. She’s a hard worker.”
“She worked midnights, she would come home early in the morning, quiet as a church mouse,” said neighbour John Gray. “That’s why it’s unbelievable what happened to the poor lady.”
Semret, who worked as a night-time cleaner at the Delta Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street East, was described by one colleague as a “responsible, professional employee of our company.”
Meanwhile area residents left candles and flowers at the scene of the crime Wednesday evening, to mark the place where Semret was killed.
Earlier Wednesday Det. Gary Giroux told reporters that the victim was on her way home from work Tuesday when she was stabbed to death during the early-morning attack.
Giroux said police have attempted to notify Semret’s next of kin, but were unable to locate any of the victim’s family members. Friends say Semret’s children are still in Africa.
“Her employers, the apartment in which she lived and the immigration department: nobody had contact information with regards to next of kin,” said Giroux. “By all accounts, she did lead a very personal life and may have been in the country without any family.”
Giroux said Semret emigrated from Eritrea three years ago and she had worked at the hotel, eventually becoming a supervisor.
Police have not identified the suspect but do believe the man lives in, or spends much if his time in, the Cabbagetown or Regent Park area. Investigators released a surveillance video capturing the attack, in hopes that it may lead to an arrest. Investigators don’t believe that Semret and the suspect were known to each other.
“Based on the victim’s lifestyle, I’m going to suggest that they don’t know each other,” said Giroux. “The reason for the attack is quite unclear at this time.”
Without going into detail, Giroux added that it’s likely the suspect has committed criminal offences in the past.
“Somebody in the area knows who this person is,” he said. “This person has done this type of conduct before and, as a result of that, someone has a suspicion of who this is and we need to hear from them right away.”
Giroux described Semret as a “sympathetic victim.”
“The area needs to step up for her and let us know who this is so we can apprehend him quickly.”
There will be a heavier police presence in the Cabbagetown area as police continue their investigation.
In the surveillance camera footage, Semret is seen walking with an umbrella as a male suspect followed about 10 seconds behind, reaching into his jacket for what investigators believe was a knife. The footage was taken just before Semret was stabbed once in the arm and a few times in the torso.
Police describe the suspect as a white man, between 5’10” to 6’2” tall, with a medium build and weighing between 150 to 200 lbs. He was last spotted wearing a dark coat with buttons up the front, dark hat with reflective material at the peak and dark shoes.
Anyone with any information about this case is asked to contact police at 416-808-7400.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Tamara Cherry