Spa shooting survivor stood face-to-face with gunman, begged for mercy

Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, critically injured in a March 16 shooting at a Cherokee County spa, has been released from the hospital, his attorney said.

Credit: Family photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, critically injured in a March 16 shooting at a Cherokee County spa, has been released from the hospital, his attorney said.

Credit: Family photo

Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz had some free time after running an errand on March 16 and decided to stop by Young’s Asian Massage in Woodstock.

Five minutes later after he got there, he was pleading for his life.

“Don’t shoot me,” Hernandez-Ortiz, who was released recently from the hospital, pleaded with the gunman.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the attorney for Hernandez-Ortiz said he was in a massage room when he heard gunshots. Hernandez-Ortiz opened the door and stood face-to-face with alleged gunman Robert Aaron Long. He dropped to the ground and begged Long to spare him, attorney Doug Rohan said Monday. The gunman shot him anyway.

Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; and Paul Andre Michels, 54, were shot and killed at the Cherokee County spa. Yong Ae Yue, 63; Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51 were fatally shot later at two Atlanta spas.

Long, 21, faces murder and aggravated assault charges and is held without bail in Cherokee County.

Hernandez-Ortiz says he is able to forgive the shooter but hopes for justice and for changes in gun laws, his attorney said.

In an audio interview released by his attorney, Hernandez-Ortiz recalled the horrifying moments following the shooting.

“I did not see how many or know how many people there were, but as I looked at him, the attacker, in the eyes I told him not to shoot, but he still did,” Hernandez-Ortiz said.

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

As Hernandez-Ortiz looked up at Long, the gunman fired a shot that struck Hernandez-Ortiz between his eyes, Rohan said.

“He shot me,” Hernandez-Ortiz said. “Face to face I asked him not to do so, but even so he did.”

After being shot, Hernandez-Ortiz was able to make his way to a bathroom and then outside, where he called his wife and nephew.

“That’s when I started losing my voice,” said Hernandez-Ortiz, who has a 9-year-old daughter. “It was when I realized I started getting quieter until I couldn’t be heard.”

The bullet damaged his esophagus and mercifully missed his heart. It’s still lodged in his abdomen.

While Hernandez-Ortiz was rushed to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, investigators believe Long drove to Atlanta, where he entered two additional spas and killed four others. Long was captured later that night about 150 miles south of Atlanta.

Of the eight killed, six were Asian women, prompting many to believe the crimes were racially motivated. Hernandez-Ortiz did not know any of those killed.

Credit: Crisp County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Crisp County Sheriff's Office

Long grew up in Cherokee County. After surveillance images were released from the shootings at Young’s Asian Massage, Long’s parents recognized him and helped investigators catch him, alerting them to a GPS device on his SUV, police have said.

After his arrest, Long told investigators he was overwhelmed by what he described as a sexual addiction at odds with his religious beliefs, authorities said.

Long legally purchased the gun he’s accused of using from a local shop hours before the shootings. Since the Atlanta spa massacre, cities including Boulder, Colorado; Rock Hill, South Carolina and Indianapolis, Indiana, have also mourned those lost to mass shooting events. Guns used in those incidents were legally purchased as well, authorities have said.

Most recently, Brandon Hole, 19, legally purchased the weapons he used to fatally shoot eight and wound others before fatally shooting himself at an Indianapolis FedEx facility last week, authorities said.

“Something needs to be done without infringing on the rights to bear arms,” Rohan said.

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

His client will meet with the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit Shannon Wallace in coming weeks. She hasn’t said whether she will seek the death penalty or prosecute the shootings as hate crimes.

“We are still working with law enforcement to finish the investigation,” Wallace said in a statement. “Once the investigation is complete, a decision will be made about the appropriate charges.”

Meanwhile, Hernandez-Ortiz now relies on a tracheotomy tube to breathe and hopes to be able to return to work at his Acworth auto repair shop.

Though he has some medical insurance, Hernandez-Ortiz does not expect it to cover the $500,000 in medical bills he expects. A GoFundMe page, which has raised nearly $380,000, will help him pay those bills and provide for his family, Rohan said.

Above all, Hernandez-Ortiz says he knows it is a miracle he survived.

“God brought me back here to share my life with my family and the people who listen to part of my story,” he said. “I’m here, thanks to God and my family and the people who have and will support me.”

Staff writers Rudy Isaza and Josh Sharpe contributed to this report.

About the Author