A few dozen people laid flowers and lit candles in a laneway in Toronto's Cabbagetown on Wednesday evening, remembering a 55-year-old mother who was stabbed to death a day earlier.

"We're just here to show our respect," said Genet Berhe, a young woman who lives in the neighbourhood.  "She's part of our community — and even though we didn't know her personally — it's just something we want to do." 


Nighisti Mehari Semret had been in Canada for two years. (CBC)

On Tuesday morning Nighisti Mehari Semret was walking home to her room in the neighbourhood after finishing a shift as a supervisor of a cleaning crew at the Delta Chelsea Hotel.

She was attacked and stabbed repeatedly by a man with a knife. The attack, according to police, was probably random.

Det.-Sgt. Gary Giroux told reporters Wednesday the motive for the assault is "quite unclear."

Giroux said he doubted Semret knew her attacker, but, the detective continued, someone in neighbourhood probably does.  Police believe he "lives, frequents and is known to the Cabbagetown and Regent Park area."

"Someone in that particular area knows who this person is," said Giroux.

Semret, who was know as Nicky, lived "a very quiet and private life," said Giroux.

A refugee from war-torn Eritrea, Semret had been in Canada for only two years.

Friends and co-workers said she was saving up to bring her husband and four children to Canada.

Police believe she was followed and attacked from behind by a male assailant with a kitchen knife as she emerged from a laneway connecting Bleecker Street to Ontario Street at around 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Neighbours heard her screams and came to her aid — one man hit the attacker with an umbrella, forcing him to run.

Semret was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital, but died of her injuries.

Police took the unusual step of releasing Semret's identity even though they have been unable to contact her next of kin in Africa.

Suspect may have history of 'random assaults'

There will be increased police presence and patrols in the area until the suspect is apprehended, said Giroux.

"[The suspect] has done this type of conduct before, and as a result of that, somebody has a suspicion of who this is, and, you know, we need to hear from them right away," he said.

When asked for specifics about what sort of conduct that entailed, Giroux mentioned "purse snatches and random assaults on the street."

He said he thinks there are people in the area who might have an idea of who the suspect might be, and "those are the people we need to hear from."

Police believe the suspect lives in and "frequents" the area.

Police are still looking for the suspect, who they describe as being white and between five feet 10 inches and six feet two inches tall. He was wearing dark clothing and a cap of some sort at the time of the attack.

Police on Tuesday released surveillance video of the victim and the suspect following a short distance behind her on the laneway, which can be viewed below.