Mourners 30 miles apart remember victims of deadly spa shootings

Dan and Charlotte Hayes of Sandy Springs took flowers to the Gold Spa on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the shooting on Piedmont Road.
Dan and Charlotte Hayes of Sandy Springs took flowers to the Gold Spa on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the shooting on Piedmont Road.

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

Delaina Yaun’s street is a family-friendly one, with kids’ bicycles and trampolines in the yards. On Wednesday, though, it was the scene of shock and grief.

Loved ones, most too stricken to comment, gathered to process the horrific news that Yaun, 33, had been one of eight victims killed Tuesday in a shooting spree at three spas in metro Atlanta.

”She was a hard worker and all about her kid,” her Acworth neighbor, Zachary Matte, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Yaun was among four people shot to death at a Cherokee County spa Tuesday afternoon, just an hour before four women were killed at two northeast Atlanta spas on the same street. Six of the eight victims were Asian women.

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A day later, Yaun’s relatives were left to comfort each other as police officers, sheriff’s deputies and the FBI continued their investigation.

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, faces eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, authorities said. The Woodstock man was taken into custody Tuesday night after authorities tracked his SUV from metro Atlanta to Crisp County, about 150 miles away. Investigators believe Long was headed to Florida, possibly to continue the shooting spree.

Melancholy visitors arrived Wednesday morning to pay their respects as small memorials of bright-colored flowers appeared outside of the shooting scenes, which are about 30 miles apart.

Authorities identified the other three victims who died in the Cherokee shooting as Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; and Daoyou Feng, 44, of an unknown address. A fifth shooting victim, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, remained hospitalized.

Atlanta police have not released the names of the victims killed at the Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa on Piedmont Road.

Lifelong Cherokee County resident Cindy Anderson dropped off a potted plant outside Youngs Asian Massage along Ga. 92, saying she was struggling to make sense of the violence that had happened there less than 24 hours earlier. The deaths “weighed on her heart,” Anderson said, and she wanted to do something to honor the victims and their families.

ExploreOnline guestbook for the victims of the Atlanta and Cherokee County spa shootings
Mourners left flowers and a potted plant outside the Cherokee County spa where four people were shot to death on Tuesday.
Mourners left flowers and a potted plant outside the Cherokee County spa where four people were shot to death on Tuesday.

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid / shaddi.abusaid@ajc.com

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid / shaddi.abusaid@ajc.com

”They’re our neighbors and they deserved better than this,” she said, wiping away tears as she got back into her car. “These people were just coming to work yesterday, just like they do every day of the week.”

About the same time, Dan Hayes and his wife, Charlotte, stepped out of their SUV and walked across the rain-soaked pavement toward the Gold Spa in Atlanta. Charlotte Hayes carried a bundle of pink and white blooms and placed them near the steps of the building where three women were shot dead. She and her husband both knelt to pray.

”We were praying for the women, praying for the Asian community, praying for racism in Atlanta, praying for people to become aware of the violence,” Dan Hayes said.

Dan and Charlotte Hayes drove from Sandy Springs to leave flowers and pray in front of the Gold Spa.
Dan and Charlotte Hayes drove from Sandy Springs to leave flowers and pray in front of the Gold Spa.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Rita Barron, the owner of Gabby’s Boutique next door to the Acworth spa, said she had two customers inside her shop Tuesday afternoon when she heard a woman scream, followed by several muffled gunshots. A stray bullet entered her store, putting a small hole in the wall behind a rack of coats.

”When I heard the noise, I saw the jackets move because they shot through the wall,” she said.

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Barron, who opened her boutique about six years ago, said she’s been robbed before but never expected anything like this would ever happen in the quiet shopping center. She described the ladies who worked next door as hard-working and friendly, especially Tan, the owner of the spa.

Though they didn’t talk much, the 49-year-old always waved to Barron as she arrived at work and told her good morning. Tan worked hard to keep her business running, Barron said, regularly arriving early in the morning and staying until well after 10 p.m.

She said she was shocked by what happened a day earlier and still trying to process the tragic loss of life.

”I don’t believe (it),” Barron said. “One day I saw them and the next they’re not here anymore.”

Hernandez-Ortiz, the surviving gunshot victim from Tuesday’s shooting in Cherokee, was a regular customer at her clothing shop, Barron said. He remains at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in serious condition, according to his family.

“I pray that my uncle’s going to be recovering from this, as well as my aunt because she’s devastated right now,” his niece, Adriana Meijia, told Channel 2 Action News.

Michels, who lived in DeKalb County, worked in construction and drove a beat-up pickup that expelled a guttural groan from the muffler. At least that’s how it sounded to neighbor Anna Hardin, who knew it meant one of two things: Michels was headed to a job or coming home from one.

When he made it home, Hardin would usually see the man working on his home. He was always working, it seemed. Almost always Hardin saw him in roughed-up blue jeans and a shirt that used to be white, like his truck used to be. But sometimes, Hardin would see him dressed up, headed somewhere special.

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In the aftermath of the deadly shootings, neighbors sought a return to normalcy. One by one, the Cherokee County businesses next to Youngs Asian Massage opened their doors. Customers trickled into the clothing boutique next door, a record shop, a vape store and a business that sells power tools.

Business owners in the strip mall didn’t feel much like returning to work following the deaths, but figured it was best to reopen their doors to customers. It looked like a typical day aside from the throngs of news reporters and television cameras set up outside.

The scene was similar in Atlanta, where the news vans far outnumbered mourners and passersby. The Hayeses, who were the first mourners to lay an offering outside of the Atlanta spas, said they didn’t know any of the victims personally and heard about the shootings through the news.

”When we saw this last night, we were horrified,” Dan Hayes said.

”We just thought there would be a lot of flowers,” Charlotte Hayes added. “Anyway, we’ll be first. Hopefully there will be more, and people will care and remember.”

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