‘It’s still painful’: Family members mourn victims of spa shootings

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Two years have passed since a gunman killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in metro Atlanta.

Thursday was a day of somber remembrance in Atlanta for the victims of a violent rampage two years ago that shook Asian American and immigrant communities across the city, state, and country.

Six of the eight killed at three Atlanta-area spas on March 16, 2021, were Asian women. Among them was Yong Ae Yue, 63, a Korean immigrant who moved to the U.S. in the 1980s.

On Thursday, her son, Robert Peterson, was part of a group of advocates and lawmakers gathered at the Georgia State Capitol to mourn the victims and reflect on the battles and advocacy of the past two years.

“When a family member dies in a mass shooting, our families lose the right to grieve in privacy. But we are not alone. We are grieving together as a community,” he said.

“Today is a day to reimagine and redefine what it means to be Asian American. To show we are no longer invisible and quiet, but we are now … loud and proud.” He added: “We are no longer satisfied with thoughts and prayers.”

Other victims were Daoyou Feng, 44; Paul Michels, 54; Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Delaina Yaun, 33; Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51. The shootings that took their lives were classified as a hate crime by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, one of the prosecutor in the case.

Calls for stricter gun control were a recurrent component of the event at the Capitol.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat, called the day a “difficult anniversary.” She also denounced the “unfettered access to weapons” that she said played a role in the “tragic loss of eight souls that should still be with us today.” She noted that her son Jordan Davis, also a victim of gun violence, would have turned 28 last month.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The 21-year-old gunman purchased the 9mm handgun used in the killings earlier that same day. Georgia imposes no waiting period between the purchase and the transfer of any type of firearm.

State Rep. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat, would like to change that. This legislative session, she filed a bill with five other Asian American lawmakers that would require a three-day waiting period for some firearm sales.

She said that the recent growth of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) caucus in the Legislature has given more forcefulness to demands for change at the state level.

“Our voices were not always heard in buildings like these,” she said.

Michael Webb is the former husband of Xiaojie “Emily” Tan. Although they separated in 2012, the pair remained close. During the pandemic, Webb helped remodel Tan’s spa business, Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth.

Webb said as a lifelong gun owner he “didn’t share the same political affiliation as my friends standing here today.” But he still backs “common sense reform.”

“We can’t give up,” he said from the podium.

Later in the morning, dozens of community advocates streamed into the nearby Georgia Freight Depot, an event space, with chants of ‘Stop Asian hate,” and “Always with us.”

During the ensuing rally for justice, Kook Ja Lee, a Korean immigrant, said she wanted to speak to “be the voice of Korean elders”

Tears made that task difficult.

The murders “caused great fear, anxiety anger and sadness. ... Women that looked like me, he killed them because of who they were. Many of those women who died were middle aged and elderly,” she said, choking up. “The oldest one, Soon Chung Park, was 74. Just like me... It hit so hard. But here we are. Two years later we are still grieving and it’s still painful.”

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

The 2021 incidents involved 12,411 victims. Of those, 65% were targeted because of bias against their race, ethnicity or ancestry. The data comes from 14,859 government agencies covering 91% of the nation’s population, the FBI said.

Peterson spoke up once again about the need for change.

“Now is the time to come together to heal and to grieve but also to also to show our strength and our resilience ... to demand safety and justice for our community.”

He said his mom had recently come to him in a dream, for the first time since her death.

In the dream, they played poker, which Peterson taught her, and were getting ready to have dinner. Then, he woke up.

“I remember ... laying down for two hours trying to dream again,” he said. “But I couldn’t go back to sleep and I couldn’t dream and I couldn’t see her smiling again.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Staff Writer Jeremy Redmon contributed to this report

Victims remembered:

Acworth victims: Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Delaina Yaun, 33, and Paul Michels, 54, died in the shooting at Youngs Asian Massage. A fifth person, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, was injured.

Atlanta victims: Long drove about 30 miles from Acworth to Piedmont Road where Yong Ae Yue, 63, Soon Chung Park, 74, Suncha Kim, 69, and Hyun Jung Grant, 51, were killed at the Gold Spa and the Aromatherapy Spa.

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