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 – All eight people killed Tuesday have been identified in the string of attacks at three Atlanta-area spas that left mostly women of Asian descent dead.
Authorities on Friday identified the four victims at the two spas in Atlanta. They are: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office.
The medical examiner said Park, Grant and Yue died of gunshot wounds to the head while Kim died of gunshot wounds to the chest.
On Wednesday, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office released the names of the four victims at the spa there, about 30 miles north of Atlanta. Those killed at Young’s Asian Massage were Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng. A 30-year-old Hispanic man was injured.
Six of the women were of Asian descent, including four who were Korean.
The suspect is in custody and police said Thursday that he frequented the two spas in Atlanta: Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa. While police said the shooter told authorities he was motivated by a sex addiction, not by race, experts have said the killings are inextricably connected to racism and hate.
The shooting comes amid a recent spike in incidents of hate, discrimination and violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by racist rhetoric by politicians such as former President Donald Trump, said Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks such incidents.
Who gets to decide what is racism, hate? Atlanta shootings renew debate over white violence, privilege
Here’s what we know about those killed.
Hyun Jung Grant
Hyun Jung Grant, 51, loved karaoke, dancing and clubs, and she made the world’s best kimchi stew, her son Randy Park told USA TODAY.
“She dedicated her whole life to raising us, but even then she found time to enjoy herself with her friends,” Park, 22, said. “I can’t articulate or express in any way to describe what she was or what she meant to us. I could say whatever word that comes to my head for her, but it doesn’t encompass a fraction of what she meant to us.”
Park said he learned only recently that his mom worked in a massage parlor – she initially said it was a makeup parlor in an effort to protect her two boys.
The two Atlanta spas attacked by the shooter had been repeatedly targeted in prostitution investigations in the past 10 years, according to police records. The documents show that 10 people had been arrested on prostitution charges, but none since 2013.
Park said he understands why his mother wasn’t forthcoming and said he feels selfish and guilty for ever invading her privacy by asking about it. He said they never talked about her work, which sometimes kept her away from home for weeks at a time.
“What’s so hard about letting people live how they want? If it does no harm to you, who is it harming, then?” he asked.
Business owner, Army veteran, woman on a date: More on the victims of the deadly rampage through 3 spas in Georgia
Xiaojie Tan, 49, who owned Young’s Asian Spa and one other in Acworth, Georgia, also went by her American name Emily. She was remembered as a curious, hard-working and caring woman who was always filled with joy.
“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,” Tan’s daughter, Jami Webb, told USA TODAY.
“She was full of smiles and laughter. She was just a pleasure to be around,” said Michael Webb, Jami’s father, who first met Tan while traveling for work in China in the early 2000s.
Tan was the youngest of two girls born to parents who were Catholics in the Communist country. Her dad fixed bicycles.
Michael Webb and Tan met in her native city of Nanning, China, which sits on the border with Vietnam. Neither spoke the other’s language well, but that didn’t stop the pair from falling in love.
Some called her by her Chinese name Xiaojie, 谭小洁 or Jay for short. In China, it is customary to put the family name before the given name, and Tan’s name in Chinese transliterated to Tan Xiao Jie, which means pure or honest. However, because Western countries use the surname last, her legal name in the United States was Xiaojie Tan.
Xiaojie Tan dreamed of traveling the world and celebrating her 50th birthday with her daughter. Then the Atlanta shooter ended her life.
Delaina Ashley Yaun
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, leaves behind a 13-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter. She and her husband had been married less than a year.
Her mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV that her daughter and son-in-law went to the spa on a date. When gunfire broke out, Yaun’s husband locked himself in a room and wasn’t injured, said Yaun’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?”
“We could really use the help to cover her funeral expenses,” loved ones say on a GoFundMe page. “She has two beautiful babies she is leaving behind. We just don’t know how to do any of this alone. If you can find it in your heart to donate, our Family will certainly appreciate all of your support.”
Yaun’s husband, Mario González, told Spanish-language website MundoHispanico that they were getting massages in two separate rooms when the gunfire erupted.
He said he hid in the room and when police came he asked repeatedly if his wife was OK. He was detained and questioned with other witnesses and did not learn until later that his wife was one of the eight victims.
“What am I going to do?” González said, adding that the shooting has left their 8-month-old infant without a mother. “I have nothing.”
Paul Andre Michels
Paul Michels, 54, owned an alarm company in Atlanta, where he and his wife, Bonnie, have lived for 26 years, his brother John said. Paul Michels had expressed interest in owning a spa and, according to the Washington Post, had been working as a handyman at Young’s Asian Spa in recent months.
John Michels says his brother was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” They grew up with nine siblings in Detroit, 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 was 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.”
Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, survived the shooting and is hospitalized in intensive care. He has been intubated and is set to have surgery as early as next week to remove the bullet in his abdomen, his wife, Flor Gonzalez, told USA TODAY. She set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical costs where she wrote he was shot in the forehead, lungs and stomach.
Flor Gonzalez told USA TODAY that her husband was on the way to a business next door to the spa 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 begged. Those are the last words Gonzalez has heard from him, she said, on the verge of tears.
The two are originally from San Marcos, Guatemala, an impoverished municipality in the Central American country’s rugged mountains. Hernandez-Ortiz came to the United States almost a decade ago. His wife and their 9-year-old daughter joined him in Georgia in 2015.
She said the family depends on Hernandez-Ortiz’s work to survive.
“There are so many people that depend on him,” Gonzalez said. “I know he is strong and will come out of this for all of us.”
Yong Ae Yue
Yong Ae Yue, 63, worked at the Aromatherapy Spa in Atlanta. She came to the U.S. from South Korea in the 1970s with her husband, Mac Peterson, the New York Times reported. Citing Peterson, the newspaper said they met while he was stationed in the Army and had a son before moving to Fort Benning, Ga., and later had another one. The couple divorced in 1982 but stayed in touch.
“She was a good mother,” Peterson told the Times. “She was always there for her kids.”
The organizer of a GoFundMe page that has raised nearly $64,000, who goes by the name of Robert Peterson, said he is Yue’s youngest son, adding:
“Mom was an amazing woman who loved to introduce our family and friends to her home-cooked Korean food and Korean karaoke. Will miss joining mom on her weekly Sunday routine to the grocery store and traditional Korean dinner. She was always kind-hearted and willing to help everyone she encountered.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which cited Yue’s two sons, said she was a licensed massage therapist who got laid off last year amid the pandemic and was happy to get back to work at the spa.
Suncha Kim, 69, was a grandmother who worked at the Gold Spa, across the street from Aromatherapy, and liked to line dance, the Times reported. Quoting a relative who asked not to be identified, the newspaper said Kim had been married for more than 50 years and had come to the U.S. from South Korea seeking better educational opportunities and a better life for herself and her family.
The Washington Post reported that Kim came to the U.S. around 1980 and, after working a number of odd jobs, offered her cooking services as a volunteer to help raise funds for several organizations. Family members told the Post she always made her children a priority.
In a GoFundMe page that has raised more than six times the original goal of $20,000, organizer Hillary Li thanks supporters on behalf of Kim’s family and says, “It brings tears to our eyes that you are all standing with us and our beloved halmoni, mother, and wife. Suncha was such a strong, loving presence in all of our lives and we miss her so much.”
Soon Chung Park
Soon Chung Park, 74, who worked at Gold Spa, moved to Atlanta after spending the majority of her life in the New York metro area.
Her son-in-law, Scott Lee, told the Post that after he married Park’s daughter, they all lived under the same roof in Lyndhurst, N.J., before Park moved to Georgia. She had been planning to move back in with Lee and his wife in June, he said.
Lee also said Park liked to work and stay active.
“She was very healthy,” he said. “Everybody said she was going to live past 100 years old.”
Daoyou Feng, 44. Not much is known yet about Feng, who, according to a friend of Xiaojie Tan’s who spoke with the Washington Post, started working at Young’s Asian Massage in the last few months and was regarded as kind and quiet.
Contributing: Dennis Wagner, John Bacon and Cara Kelly; The Associated Press