Witness to Norcross mass shooting: ‘It was horrible'

His face down in the table and his mind drifting into serenity, Robert Kwon was settling in for his regular massage at the Su Jung Health Salon.

Then Kwon heard a loud bang in the front of the business. Within seconds, one of the spa's co-owners burst into the massage room with blood soaking his shirt. The man slumped to the ground, and Kwon immediately grabbed the therapist's phone to call 911.

A night that had started off like so many others for Kwon had taken a turn for the horrific.

The man was one of about 20 people in the spa Tuesday night when Jeong Soo Paek allegedly burst into the business, in the 6000 block of Buford Highway, and fatally shot four family members before turning the gun on himself.

"It was horrible," Kwon told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday. "I was just stunned."

Norcross police on Thursday identified the gunman as the 59-year-old Paek, and the victims as Byong Ok Kang, 64; Kum Hi Song, 61; Kum Sook Kim, 57, and Tae Yol Kim, 55.

Surveillance camera footage shows Paek walking into the business and talking to one of the victims before shots were fired, police said. Paek is accused of killing his two sisters and their husbands before turning the gun on himself.

Detectives continued searching Thursday for clues to what prompted the bloody rampage.

The carnage left the west Gwinnett city of 9,00o with a homicide toll -- five, all in the month of February -- that ranks as its most in a year since the FBI began tracking such data in 1985. A Norcross teen was shot to death in a home invasion earlier this month.

The city has averaged about one homicide a year recently and had none in 2011.

“We're in shock,” said Bill Barks, publisher of the Norcross Times community newsletter. “You can look back in time, and you’ll never see anything like this in Norcross. Not for a year, let alone a month. I guess I’ll be glad to see March come.”

Su Jung was a family business, owned and operated by Korean immigrants in Norcross who were well known in Gwinnett County's Korean-American community for their civic activism and charitable endeavors.

Kwon, who went to Su Jung four to five times a week since its opening in 2002, said he doesn’t expect the family to reopen the business.

"The family was already struggling with payments to the bank," said Kwon, who employs a surviving family member at one of his businesses. "And knowing Korean people, they will not go back to that place. Not with that kind of tragedy happening there."

Other friends and colleagues of the family also have suggested finances might have been the source of the dispute.

Sonny Lee, who owns an auto shop in the neighboring shopping center, said one of the spa's employees told him the family gathered for a business meeting Tuesday night that soon erupted into the fatal argument.

"We're just trying to cope with the shock of the news," said Travis Kim (no relation to the victims), president of the Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta.

Kim said funerals for Kang and Song were scheduled for Saturday at Lee Funeral Home in Decatur. The remaining family members, including Paek, will have their funerals Sunday at the same site. The Korean-American Association and others plan to help the family with the cost of the services.

Tuesday’s shooting follows the Feb. 2 death of 15-year-old Nicholas Jackson II, a Norcross High School football player who died from a gunshot wound suffered during a home invasion. Authorities have charged six men in Jackson’s death and said robbery was the likely motive.

The two incidents have rattled Norcross residents.

Attorney Gordon Tomlinson, who chairs a local citizens group, said residents have been unnerved by both incidents. Tuesday night, he was working at his office when his wife called to tell him about the shootings less than a mile away.

“I went to bed, [but] I couldn’t sleep,” he said.

Community leaders were quick to call the crimes isolated incidents.

“Crime is continuing to go down,” said Chuck Warbington, executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, a business district that includes Tuesday’s shooting.

FBI statistics support Warbington's assertion. The number of violent crimes in Norcross fell from 159 in 2006 to 54 in 2010. Lesser crimes, such as burglary and motor vehicle theft, also declined.