Atlanta spa shooting victim, 74, planned to quit, move near grandkids

Hyo Jung Kim, 46, (left) and Hyun Jung Kim, 48, are the daughters of the late Soon Chung Park, one of the Atlanta spa shooting victims. Their mother’s apartment unit is shown in background in Duluth on Friday, April 2, 2021. Soon Chung Park was among eight people shot and killed March 16 at three spas — two in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Park was one of six female victims of Asian heritage. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Hyo Jung Kim, 46, (left) and Hyun Jung Kim, 48, are the daughters of the late Soon Chung Park, one of the Atlanta spa shooting victims. Their mother’s apartment unit is shown in background in Duluth on Friday, April 2, 2021. Soon Chung Park was among eight people shot and killed March 16 at three spas — two in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Park was one of six female victims of Asian heritage. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

She had decided to leave Atlanta in 2020.

Soon Chung Park was 74, an outgoing, outdoorsy-type who loved to dance the tango and the cha-cha. She’d raised five kids on her own after she was widowed, and she’d worked all her life — mostly as a cook, though she once owned a jewelry store.

She was ready to move North, where her 10 grandkids were growing up fast in New York and New Jersey. But the pandemic led Park to stay a bit longer in Georgia, as the New York City area, where much of her family lives, was a hotspot for the coronavirus. But this year, on March 11, Park told her daughter Hyun Jung Kim, 48, she was moving to be with them soon.

“Yes, I will — no matter what,” Park texted Kim.

Five days later, a gunman walked into the Atlanta spa where Park’s family said the 74-year-old worked as a cook and killed her. The admitted killer took the lives of eight people, including six who were women of Asian descent.

As Park’s family grapples with the loss, several told her story Friday at the office of their Duluth lawyer Jae Kim. The family wants to honor Park’s memory, to tell the people across the world hurt by the horrific shootings who Soon Chung Park was.

Soon Chung Park was among eight people shot and killed March 16 at three spas, two in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Park was one of six female victims of Asian heritage. (FAMILY PHOTO PROVIDED BY Hyo Jung Kim, daughter )
Soon Chung Park was among eight people shot and killed March 16 at three spas, two in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Park was one of six female victims of Asian heritage. (FAMILY PHOTO PROVIDED BY Hyo Jung Kim, daughter )

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

She moved to New York City in 1986, hoping it might offer opportunities to her and her children. She was 40, displayed a toothy grin and made the most of hard times by remembering to laugh. Park worked in a deli at first and brought home sandwiches for the family. Park had left her husband and kids in Korea while she planted some roots for them, though her husband would die of liver cancer before he made it to the U.S.

After Park first arrived, she shared a room with her teenage niece, who became more like a sister through late-night whispered conversations.

“We would get in trouble together,” Sin Ah Kim said.

Kim wanted to talk about boys. Park wanted to talk about cooking — a passion.

“My mom would come in there, ‘Turn off the lights!’” Kim said as she laughed.

After the deli, Park owned a jewelry store, where daughter Hyo Jung Kim would often beg for, and of course receive, pretty things.

“She was always loving and giving,” Hyo Jung Kim, 46, said. “My mother was all about her children and family.”

It was hard, of course, being a 30-something mother of five in a new country.

“She did go through a lot of hardships. She had to raise her children on her own,” said Hyo Jung Kim.

But by 2014, Park’s kids were grown and she was open to a change. Her roommate, a dear friend of 30 years, moved to metro Atlanta, liked it and invited Park to join her.

Park stayed in touch with family through visits, calls and texts. She spent a lot of time with her friend, being outside as much as possible. She’d go walking in the park. She’d stock up on groceries at the H-Mart near her apartment off Pleasant Hill Road.

But when Park was in her apartment, most often she was cooking. Even after cooking all day at work, she’d come home and cook: dumplings, fish stews, numerous variations of kimchi.

“There were five kids. Everybody has their own taste. She’d say, ‘I know you like that. I know you like this,’” Hyo Jung Kim was saying in the lawyer’s office when her older sister swiveled her chair around and leaned over sobbing.

Hyun Jung Kim, 48, daughter of one of Atlanta spas shooting victims, Soon Chung Park, cries as she and her younger sister Hyo Jung Kim, 46, recall their late mother on Friday, April 2, 2021. Soon Chung Park was among eight people shot and killed March 16 at three spas, two in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Park was one of six female victims of Asian heritage. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Hyun Jung Kim, 48, daughter of one of Atlanta spas shooting victims, Soon Chung Park, cries as she and her younger sister Hyo Jung Kim, 46, recall their late mother on Friday, April 2, 2021. Soon Chung Park was among eight people shot and killed March 16 at three spas, two in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Park was one of six female victims of Asian heritage. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The older sister excused herself from the room and came back, then had to leave again. Loss surrounds the family now, as it would have regardless of how Park’s life had ended. But dying in such a sudden and horrifying way — shot while working at a spa, a job she had been planning to leave soon so she could be with family, the people she lived for — is beyond confounding.

Park had looked forward to being in New York with her older sister, 84-year-old Soon Yae Kim, who was just as eager for them to reunite.

The family didn’t know how the elder sister would take what happened to Park. For now, they’ve told her it was a heart attack.

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