Atlanta spa shootings: Asian Americans reflect on murders
Atlanta-area Asian Americans share their thoughts on shootings at three local spas that left eight dead, six of whom were Asian women.
Staff video, USA TODAY
ATLANTA — Details were emerging Friday about the four victims at the two spas in Atlanta after a gunman killed eight people in a string of attacks that left mostly women of Asian descent dead.
Those who died in Atlanta were Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63, according to a statement on the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office.
Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said they still needed to determine the motive, but that it was too soon to say whether the suspect “specifically targeted” victims. Authorities said Wednesday that Robert Aaron Long, 21, indicated he committed the shootings because of sex addiction, but experts say it’s hard to disentangle race from the killings. Long waived his right to an initial court appearance in Cherokee County on Thursday.
Authorities say the suspect opened fire at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth on Tuesday evening, killing four people and injuring a fifth, before driving 30 miles into Atlanta and killing four more people at two businesses, Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa. Long was arrested about 150 miles south of Atlanta. Police said he was heading to Florida and intended to carry out more shootings as spas there.
The shootings came amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States. Witnesses have only started to come to terms with the horror they experienced at the spas.
First Asian American state Senator in Georgia on anti-Asian violence: ‘This is a problem that’s taking place all across the country’
More details on the latest news in the Atlanta spa shootings:
►In a statement Friday, Biden urged Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, saying the bill “would would expedite the federal government’s response to the rise of hate crimes exacerbated during the pandemic, support state and local governments to improve hate crimes reporting, and ensure that hate crimes information is more accessible to Asian American communities.”
►House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday the House would hold a moment of silence in honor of the victims and the “assault on the AAPI community.” “Long before Atlanta, we have known that this has been a challenge, really exacerbated by some of the language of the previous administration,” she said.
►FBI Director Christopher Wray said in an interview with NPR that the investigation into the shootings was ongoing, but “at the moment it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated.” “It’s a heartbreaking incident,” Wray added. “And it hits particularly close to home for me since I consider Atlanta home.”
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In a GoFundMe page, Randy Park, who identified Grant as his mother, said the shooting has “put a new lens on my eyes on the amount of hate that exists in our world.”
Park said his mother, whose maiden name was Kim, was a single mom raising two sons in the U.S. while the rest of his family is in South Korea. “She was one of my best friends and the strongest influence on who we are today,” Park wrote.
Park told the Daily Beast that his mother loved “dancing and partying.” “She would always try to convince me to go out. She loved going to clubs. She loved Tiesto. She was like a teenager,” he told the outlet.
Jennifer Chung, a Korean American living in Atlanta, said she felt “numb” when she heard the news. At least four of the victims were women of Korean descent.
“There’s just been so much going on within our community all over, not just the U.S. but even the world,” she said. “It’s kinda morbid, but you’re thinking it was just a matter of time for it to happen down the street from you.”
Many Asian women are living in fear and have been long before the shootings Tuesday night that showed America the brutality of anti-Asian violence.
Experts say witnessing violence – or personally experiencing violence or harassment – can lead to trauma, which can cause a range of debilitating mental and physical health effects. For Asian women, the trauma is complex as it is often layered with racism, sexism and hyper-sexualization. Read more here.
– Sara M. Moniuszko
Marcus Lyon heard the first gunshot and bolted upright on the massage table. The woman who had just started massaging his neck looked at him and walked across the small room to open the hallway door. She dropped to the floor, blood pouring from her head.
Lyon jumped into his pants and raced out the door to his car parked outside Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, grabbing his own pistol, ready to fight off the shooter. The gunman was gone, and Lyon called 911. “I said you all need to come, people are dead.”
Lyon, a delivery driver, recounted the horrific moments a gunman who killed four people and injured one other inside the spa north of Atlanta started shooting.
“The whole time I was on the floor, I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I’m just thankful I’m alive.”
– Trevor Hughes
Atlanta police confirmed Thursday that the suspect had been to the two spa locations in the city that he’s accused of targeting.
“I can say that he had frequented both of those locations,” deputy police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said of Gold Spa and the Aromatherapy Spa, the two spas that became crime scenes Tuesday.
Hampton said authorities are still investigating the motive and added he couldn’t say whether Long “specifically targeted” victims at those locations.
Visual timeline: Here’s what happened at Atlanta spa shootings
Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds previously said that Long indicated he may have frequented some of the businesses and said he had a sex addiction.
While some have been critical of police for not immediately saying the shootings were a hate crime, Hampton said Thursday, “Our investigation is looking at everything, so nothing is off the table.”
The day before Xiaojie “Emily” Tan would have celebrated her many accomplishments — making a life in the United States, building a family, launching two businesses — a gunman broke into her business and opened fire. Tan is listed as the owner of a limited liability corporation associated with Young’s Asian Massage and another spa.
Instead, Jami Webb, 29, and her father, Michael Webb, 64, spent Tan’s birthday planning her funeral at a Catholic church.
“She did everything for me and for the family. She provided everything. She worked every day, 12 hours a day, so that me and our family would have a better life,” Jami Webb said of her mother.
Tan’s family, friends and customers described a curious, hard-working and caring woman who was always filled with joy.
Some called her by her Chinese name Xiaojie, or Jay for short. Others, knew her by her American name, Emily.
“She was full of smiles and laughter. She was just a pleasure to be around,” said Michael Webb, an American businessman who first met Tan while traveling for work in China in the early 2000s.
– Trevor Hughes and Romina Ruiz
Delaina Ashley Yaun leaves behind a 13-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter.
Her mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV, that her daughter and son-in-law went to the spa on a date. When the shooting happened, Yaun’s husband locked himself in a room and wasn’t injured, said Yan’s half-sister, Dana Toole.
“He’s taking it hard,” Toole said. “He was there. He heard the gunshots and everything. You can’t escape that when you’re in a room and gunshots are flying – what do you do?”
Paul Michels, who also died at the spa in Acworth, owned an alarm company in Atlanta, where he and his wife, Bonnie, have lived 26 years, his brother John said.
He believes his brother was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” They grew up with nine siblings in Detriot, riding dirt bikes and spending summer weekends at a lake and getting into mischief together, he said. They both served in the U.S. Army at the same time and his brother served as an infantryman in the late 1980s.
“I’m the closest in age, so we were basically like twins,” said John, 52. “We did everything together growing up.”
Little has been revealed about Daoyou Feng.
– John Bacon and Dennis Wagner.
The lone shooting victim who survived the attack, Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, is hospitalized in intensive care.
His wife, Flor Gonzalez, said in an interview Thursday that he is currently intubated and due to have surgery as early as next week to remove the bullet in his abdomen.
Gonzalez said her husband, a Guatemalan immigrant, was on the way to a business next door to the massage parlor, where he sends money to family back home. He called her as the shooting was unfolding.
“They shot me, they shot me, come help me please,” she said Hernandez-Ortiz supplicated. Those were the last words Gonzalez has been able to hear from him, she said on the verge of tears. Read more about those who were killed here.
Hernandez-Ortiz is set to have surgery as early as next week to remove the bullet in his abdomen.
– Romina Ruiz
A historic hearing Thursday on anti-Asian violence and discrimination, Congress’ first on the issue in more than 30 years, turned emotional as lawmakers gave emotional pleas to end the use of divisive language just days after the spa shootings in Atlanta left the Asian-American community rattled.
“Our community is bleeding. We are in pain. And for the last year, we’ve been screaming out for help,” Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said, noting the continued pleas throughout the pandemic and rise in hate crimes targeting the Asian community.
Trevor Noah on Atlanta shootings: ‘If that’s not racism then the word has no meaning’
Responding to Republican lawmakers’ arguments that the focus on hate crimes could hamper free speech Meng told lawmakers they could criticize other countries but “you don’t have to do it by putting a bulls-eye on the back of Asian Americans across the county, on our grandparents, on our kids.”
Getting visibly emotional, Meng said “this hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community, to find solutions. And we will not let you take our voice from us”
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, asked whether the committee’s attempts to prevent hate crimes and hate incidents against Asian Americans would hamper free speech.
“It seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society,” he said of the hearing, though he said he opposed hate crimes and wanted justice to be served for the perpetrator of the shooting in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian or Asian American.
– Nicholas Wu
If you see anti-Asian racism, Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks acts of discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, recommends these five safety steps:
- Take action. Go to the targeted person and offer support.
- Actively listen. Before you do anything, ask — and then respect the targeted person’s response. If need be, keep an eye on the situation.
- Ignore attacker. Try using your voice, body language or distractions to de-escalate the situation (though use your judgment).
- Accompany. Ask the targeted person to leave with you if whatever is going on escalates.
- Offer emotional support. Find out how the targeted person is feeling and help them determine what to do next.
A rise in anti-Asian attacks: Here’s how to be an ally to the community.
Contributing: The Associated Press