Families of victims in Atlanta spa shootings trying to make sense of tragedy

By Shaddi Abusaid and Joshua Sharpe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS
Atlanta police officers and detectives respond outside Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa in Atlanta, where several people were shot on March 16, 2021.

ATLANTA - Investigators on Friday released the names of the four women killed during Tuesday’s mass shooting at two Atlanta spas.

The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the women as 74-year-old Soon C. Park, 51-year-old Hyun Jung Grant, 69-year-old Suncha Kim and 63-year-old Yong A. Yue.

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was arrested in South Georgia on Tuesday night following the shooting spree that began at an Acworth-area spa and continued in Atlanta at two similar businesses. Six of the eight people he’s accused of killing were women of Asian descent.

Atlanta police said Thursday they worked with the Korean consulate to identify the four women killed at the spas along Piedmont Road.

Grant, a mother of two, lived in Duluth, her son Randy Park said on a fundraising page. She was the only family he and his younger brother had in America and worked hard to provide for them, he wrote.

“She was one of my best friends and the strongest influence on who we are today,” Park said. “Losing her has put a new lens on my eyes on the amount of hate that exists in our world. As much as I want to grieve and process the reality that she is gone, I have a younger brother to take care of and matters to resolve as a result of this tragedy.”

Yue just wanted to work.

A licensed massage therapist, she was laid off at the start of the pandemic last year and was excited to finally start shifts at the spa again, her son Elliott Peterson, 42, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday morning.

Yue’s youngest child, Robert Peterson, 38, agreed, recalling their mother as a kind and deeply caring woman. If you stopped by her house, she’d sit you down, ask if you’d eaten, and then insist on a trip to H Mart grocery store so she could make a meal.

”She feeds all my friends,” Robert Peterson said, adding that the friends loved her Korean home cooking. When Yue wasn’t working, she could be found taking someone flowers, food, gifts, that little extra cash they needed to make rent, the sons said in front of their mom’s Duluth home.

Otherwise she was probably with her dog, Lyong, a Shih Tzu mix with a pink collar lined with diamonds. On Friday morning, a friend took the dog on a walk. When she came back, she cried and leaned her head on Elliott Peterson’s shoulder.

”Don’t cry,” he said. “That’s what she would say.”

Tuesday’s mass shootings rattled two metro Atlanta communities, leaving the victims’ families devastated and people across the globe struggling to make sense of the violence.

Five people were shot during the Cherokee County incident and four of those victims died. They were identified as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44, of an unknown address. The fifth victim, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was injured. He remains at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital.

While Cherokee County investigators said Long told them the shootings were not racially motivated, Atlanta police haven’t ruled out charging the Woodstock man with a hate crime.

“Nothing is off the table,” Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Investigators said Long had a sex addiction and regularly patronized the types of businesses targeted in Tuesday’s shootings, reportedly calling them a “temptation he wanted to eliminate.” Atlanta police confirmed he frequented both spas on Piedmont Road — Gold Spa, where three women were shot to death, and Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where officers discovered a fourth woman dead.

According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, three of the women killed in Atlanta were shot in the head and a fourth died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest. The 9 mm handgun used in the shootings had been purchased hours earlier at a Holly Springs gun store.

In response to the shootings, police across metro Atlanta stepped up patrols in Asian American communities and around Asian-owned businesses.

President Joe Biden scrapped plans to celebrate the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package during his visit to Atlanta on Friday and plans to meet with Asian American leaders and honor the victims of the spa shootings.

Rather than headlining a political rally highlighting the sweeping aid measure, he and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak with the advocates to condemn the violence against Asian Americans in the wake of Tuesday’s shootings.