Remembering the Victims of the Atlanta Spa Shootings

*** TW: This article discusses gun violence, murder and racism. Please read at your own discretion.***

On March 16 around 5 p.m., 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long opened fire on the Asian-owned business Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia, about 45 minutes away from metropolitan Atlanta. Ultimately, two people passed away when law enforcement arrived, while three others were taken to the hospital. Two of the three individuals passed away. About an hour later, in Atlanta, police received a phone call about a possible robbery at Gold Massage Spa. Soon after, they learned about gunshots fired at Aromatherapy Spa.

From surveillance videos from Young’s Asian Massage, police immediately released photos of Long emerging from his car before opening fire, asking for any tips or identity confirmations. Young’s parents identified him and alerted the authorities. Hours later, the police apprehended Long when he was already 150 miles southeast of Atlanta on I-75. He was in Crisp County on his way to Florida.

Long drove down from Acworth to Atlanta to conduct these heinous crimes because he "lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation." Therefore, this was his form of eliminating these temptations. When asked about a motive in police custody, Long claims he committed these crimes due to his severe sex addiction. Raised as a traditional, conservative Christian, Long felt immense guilt for his addiction and succumbing to his desires.

To pay for his actions, Long is charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He is currently being held in Cherokee County, Georgia, without bond. When the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference addressing the investigation the day after the shootings occurred, Capt. Jay Baker, said that “yesterday was a really bad day for him.”

Long’s “really bad day” cost eight people their lives. Eight people. That “really bad day” was the last day eight people said goodbye to their loved ones. Eight lives. His “really bad day” was the day eight people took their last breath. Eight.

Among these eight victims, six were of Asian descent. As of late, #StopAAPIHate has been plastered all over our social media feeds in captions, posts, videos, etc. due to the rise of anti-Asian sentiment because of COVID-19. Along with this hashtag, there are usually statistics and brief, bullet-point remarks about specific cases and victims. While I could go more into depth about these statistics, I choose not to. Behind these statistics, numbers and percentages, there are people — human beings like you and me. Instead, I want to honor the victims of this tragedy and talk about their stories, their experiences and their lives.

  1. 1. Xiaojie “Emily” Tan

    Tan was the owner of Young’s Asian Massage and owned at least two more massage parlors in Atlanta. She leaves behind her daughter Jami, and her husband. In an interview with ABC News, her family spoke in remembrance of her. Tan was a hardworking woman who wanted to provide the best life for her family, so she worked tirelessly. Not only did she help provide for her family in the United States, but she also helped financially support her mother and sister in China. Her husband told ABC News that Tan was thinking about retiring after years of hard work to support her family.

    Although Jami is heartbroken she can no longer travel back to China with her mother, she intends to make that trip one last time to put her to rest in their home city of Nanning. As of right now, Lauren Mellone, a member of Xiaojie’s extended family, created a GoFundMe to help Jami fund the cost of her mother’s funeral expenses and any further additional costs.

    On March 18, Tan would have celebrated her 50th birthday.

  2. 2. Delaina Ashley Yaun

    Yaun was a proud mother to a 13-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter. She recently married her husband, Mario González, last summer, and on the night of her murder, they decided to go on a date to get a couple’s massage at Young’s Asian Massage after Yaun finished work.

    As shots fired, the couple was in separate rooms about to finish their massages. Her husband was in a separate room from her and was petrified with fear for not only his life but for his wife. Later, when the authorities arrived at the scene, instead of letting him look for his wife, they detained and handcuffed him for hours. Furthermore, in an interview with Mundo Hispánico, when he asked if he could know about his wife’s whereabouts, the officers ignored him. For about four hours, he did not know about his wife’s condition. After those four hours passed, the police notified him Yaun was dead.

    Yaun was 33 years old.

  3. 3. Sun Cha Kim

    Kim emigrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, about 15 years ago. Coming to the United States, she spoke little English and regularly worked two to three jobs at once to help provide for her family. One of those jobs included a position at Gold Spa in Atlanta, where Kim helped feed and did laundry for the other employees at the establishment.

    In an interview, her granddaughter remembers her grandmother with fondness and admiration, describing her as a pure-hearted woman who simply wanted to give her two kids and three grandchildren a better life while growing old with her husband. She never complained because she knew she was working for the ones she loved.

    Kim was 69 years old.

  4. 4. Hyun Jung Grant

    Grant was a dedicated single mother to two sons. Thirteen years ago, Grant moved to Georgia from Seattle with her sons. She worked tirelessly at the massage spa — almost every day — to provide for her family. Work became so strenuous that many times, she spent the night at the spa instead of driving 30 miles to Duluth. However, even though she was constantly working to provide for her family, she always made sure to take care of her sons. She always called to make sure they were fed and went to bed on time.

    Her sons fondly remember her as a fun spirit who loved to dance, especially moonwalk while doing chores, and play music in the car.

    The night of the shooting, her son, Randy Par, was playing video games at home, and as soon as he heard about the shooting, he immediately rushed over. Instead of authorities telling him his mother passed away at the scene, he learned through word of mouth about her passing. As of right now, he cannot even claim his mother’s body because of complications with legal papers and proving he is next of kin.

    Grant was 51 years old.

  5. 5. Soon C. Park

    Little is known about Park, but she is a former worker at Gold Spa. In the past, she lived in New York, and many of her relatives still reside there. She leaves behind her husband Lee Gwangho.

    She was 74 years old.

  6. 6. Yong Ae Yue

    Yue was a hard-working licensed massage therapist. She was excited to return to work after being laid off due to the pandemic. In an interview, her son, Robert Peterson, remembers her as a caring person that would often give others gifts, food or flowers with the money she saved on the side. He also recounts that she loved movies, reading and soap operas.

    Yue was 63 years old.

  7. 7. Daoyou Feng

    Little information is known about Feng, but she recently started working at Young’s Asian Massage in the past few months.

    She was 44 years old.

  8. 8. Paul Andre Michels

    Michels grew up in Detroit, Michigan, in a large family where he was the seventh of nine children. After high school, he enlisted in the army where he joined the infantry. Later in life, he followed his brother John to Atlanta in 1995 to do electrical work. There, he met Bonnie, his wife of more than 20 years.

    Michels owned a business installing security systems, but he was thinking about switching careers; he wanted to open a massage spa. The night of the shooting, he spoke with Tan about the business while he worked.

    Loved ones remember him as a good, hard-working man who would loan you money if you ever needed it, and he always made sure you never left his house with an empty stomach.

    He was 54 years old.

Among the eight deceased, there is one more victim: Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz. Hernandez-Ortiz is still in critical care at the hospital after being hit with stray bullets as he exited a neighboring store to Young’s Asian Massage the night of the shooting. Unfortunately, the shooting left him needing facial surgery and with breathing issues. He will be undergoing surgery to help him breathe once more. There is currently a GoFundMe that his wife, Flora Gonzalez Gomez, organized to help pay for his medical care. 

Although the authorities have not officially labeled this case a hate crime, Long specifically targeted Asian-owned businesses that are simply trying to make ends meet during a difficult time due to the pandemic. However, I am asking and begging you to please help stop the hatred directed toward these minority communities. Please help stop AAPI hate.

As per the words of Baker, this is the result of “a bad day.” However, that “bad day” cost eight people their lives. That “bad day” gave their loved ones an eternity of grief and mourning that can never heal. Please, remember their stories; remember their names, for they did not die in vain.