Torrance police on Friday identified the woman they believe unleashed racist tirades against three people at a local park, saying she is also suspected of physically assaulting two people months earlier.
The woman was captured on camera throwing insults and racist remarks in two separate incidents at Charles H. Wilson Park in Torrance — telling a woman to “Go back to whatever (expletive) Asian country you belong in” and targeting a man and his 11-year-old son during a separate instance on the same day.
With a fake accent, the woman said to the man repeatedly: “You understand me, China man?”
Lena Hernandez, 54, is believed to be the woman who launched both attacks Wednesday, Torrance Police Chief Eve R. Berg said Friday. Police previously described her as 56.
Investigators used a license plate number seen in one of the videos to track down an address in Long Beach, visiting multiple locations to find Hernandez, Berg said.
However, she remained outstanding as of Friday evening.
Local officials and law enforcement are urging anyone who knows Hernandez’s whereabouts and any other potential victims to contact police.
“I really hope there are no other victims. But if there are, I hope they come forward and let us know,” Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey told reporters during a Friday afternoon news conference.
Along with the racist tirades, Hernandez is also suspected of assaulting two people last October.
“This unfortunate incident involved an older female suspect brutally assaulting a custodian and then physically assaulting another individual who was acting as a good Samaritan,” Berg said.
The second person assaulted was trying to help the custodian, Berg said. After the two videos surfaced this week, the second victim came forward and said she filed a police report at the time.
Kayceelyn Salminoa said she immediately recognized the older woman upon seeing the videos taken at Wilson Park. Salminoa said the woman attacked her inside a public bathroom at the Del Amo Fashion Center, which is less than 2 miles from the park.
“Crazy lady points down at me and says, ‘You better not get the eff up or else,'” Salminoa told KTLA. “And then I get up, of course, and then that’s when she physically grabs my hair and pushes me down and starts punching the back of my head.”
When one of the videos surfaced Wednesday, Salminoa tweeted photos of the woman she says assaulted her and wrote: “I filed a police report on this same lady back in October 2019 due to a physical attack ON ME. Nothing came of it. What are you going to do about it NOW? @TorrancePD”
The department defended its response to the assault allegations; Berg said there weren’t enough “leads,” and the case was suspended until the incidents this week at Wilson Park.
“It is true our department was made aware of the altercation that occurred in October of last year,” Berg said. “The reason we haven’t held a press conference or put out any information on this matter is because we didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the investigation.”
On Friday morning, dozens of protesters gathered at the park where Hernandez is accused of verbally attacking multiple people. They wore all black and worked out together, paying tribute to the victim seen in the first video that surfaced Wednesday.
During that clip, the suspect spewed a racist attack at a woman exercising, complaining about her using stairs at the park to work out and wearing black in the “California sun.”
“Who wears black in California sun? Who the (expletive) wears black?” the woman said. Other times during the video, she made physical threats.
“Next time you ever talk to me like that you’re gonna get your (expletive) kicked by my family,” she said. “They’re gonna (expletive) you up.”
The victim points out the fact that there are other stairs at the park when the older woman continues to complain about her using the stairs.
“Go back to whatever (expletive) Asian country you belong in,” the suspect is heard shouting in the video. “This is not your place. This is not your home. We do not want you here.”
During another incident the same day — which involved a man and his 11-year-old son — the woman told them: “Do you know who my family is? You are so (expletive). You are going to get (expletive). You’re kids are gonna get (expletive).”
“It’s completely another thing to say racial slurs to minors. They need to be protected,” the man, who did not wish to be identified, said.
Police have described Hernandez as being suspected of hateful speech and assault. But Berg said prosecutors are still reviewing the cases to see what charges they can file.
“A lot of this might possibly not rise to the level of a crime, and yet, some of it may,” Berg said, explaining authorities will review whether local, state or federal crimes were committed.
Berg declined to comment on whether Hernandez has been convicted or suspected of any previous crimes, saying the release of that information “would compromise the investigation.”
Mayor Furey condemned the racist remarks at Wilson Park as “nauseating to absolutely anyone in our community.”
“We are a fully diverse community — more than 80 languages spoken in the city of Torrance,” Furey said, later adding the suspect “will be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who represents Torrance and other parts of the South Bay, said his wife and daughter sent him the video of the woman insulted for using park stairs to work out.
“My daughter accidentally saw the video footage of this woman ranting against an Asian American woman in Wilson Park,” Muratsuchi said. “It just horrified my daughter, and it horrified me because this is not the Torrance that I know and that I love.”
“Torrance is a very diverse community with a large Asian American population,” Muratsuchi said.
Muratsuchi believes it’s part of a larger national trend of hate-fueled incidents targeting Asian Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a concern that’s been expressed by advocacy groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and Human Rights Watch.
The man with his 11-year-old son when they were verbally attacked shared some words of hope.
“Don’t be discouraged by this one sad incident,” he said. “But at the same time, this is a reality of where things are. So we need to make things right, and continue to fight.”
Authorities said anyone with information can reach Torrance Police Department investigators at 310-328-3456 or 310-618-5570.