Spa shootings survivor: Alleged gunman will be judged by Georgians, God for his crimes

U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, takes a moment to pray after laying flowers at Gold Spa in Atlanta.
Caption
U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, takes a moment to pray after laying flowers at Gold Spa in Atlanta.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The man who survived Atlanta’s deadly spa shootings spree that killed eight people says it isn’t up to him to judge the alleged gunman. But Robert Aaron Long should face consequences, the survivor said, even if that means the death penalty.

“Mr. Long did not have the right to take the lives of eight people and did not have the right to try to take my life,” Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz said in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Mr. Long will be judged by the residents of Georgia and by God for his crimes. It is not my place to be the judge here or above.”

Hernandez-Ortiz was a customer of Youngs Asian Massage in Cherokee County on March 16 when a gunman opened fire, killing four people. From there, Long is accused of driving to Atlanta and killing four others at two Piedmont Road spas. On Tuesday, grand juries in both Fulton and Cherokee counties indicted Long on multiple counts, including murder. Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis announced she is seeking the death penalty and is pursuing hate crime charges against Long.

ExploreSpa shootings suspect indicted in 2 counties; Fulton to pursue hate crime charges

It is believed that this would be the first time Georgia’s hate crime law, which went into effect last summer, would be applied. But according to the Anti-Defamation League, the spa shootings are a perfect example of why the law was written.

“There is a clear bias motivation in this case,” Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of ADL’s southern division, told the AJC. “While the shooter did claim that he doesn’t have any racial bias, the fact that he is stereotyping and targeting Asian woman is cause for investigating a hate crime.”

Ashley Yaun, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Xiaojie Tan, 49, and Daoyou Feng, 44, all died from their injuries after being shot in the Cherokee spa. Yong Ae Yue, 63, Soon Chung Park, 74, Suncha Kim, 69, and Hyun Jung Grant, 51, were killed in the Atlanta businesses.

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Yong Ae Yue (clockwise from top left), Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant and Soon Chung Park were killed in three metro Atlanta businesses.

Credit: Family photos

Yong Ae Yue (clockwise from top left), Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant and Soon Chung Park were killed in three metro Atlanta businesses.
Caption
Yong Ae Yue (clockwise from top left), Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant and Soon Chung Park were killed in three metro Atlanta businesses.

Credit: Family photos

Credit: Family photos

Within two hours of the Atlanta shootings, Long was arrested in Crisp County after his parents helped police track him through his cellphone. 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 said he didn’t target his victims, but investigators said he had previously been a customer at the businesses.

Long’s statement that he didn’t target the victims doesn’t mean it’s not a hate crime, Padilla-Goodman said.

“He went to places where he knew he would find Asian women,” she said.

While campaigning for the district attorney job, Willis spoke out against the death penalty. But on Monday, she told reporters this case against Long warrants it. Cherokee County DA Shannon Wallace will not make a decision on the death penalty until Long’s arraignment, which has not been scheduled.

Dana Toole, whose sister Delaina Yaun was one of the eight people killed, told Channel 2 Action News the death penalty is not her choice.

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

“It won’t bring her back. I just put it in God’s hands, because it’s not my choice to take another life,” Toole said. “What is justice in this case? Making sure he stays where he’s at. If the death penalty proceeds forward, then so be it.”

Only one Georgia jury has handed down a death sentence during the past seven years. That occurred in April 2019 when a Gwinnett County jury sentenced Tiffany Moss to die by lethal injection for starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter to death, then trying to burn the child’s corpse inside a trash can. In that case, Moss represented herself as her own lawyer and put up no defense.

Caption
Elcias Hernandez Ortiz was critically injured in the March 16 shooting at a Cherokee County spa.

Credit: Family photo

Elcias Hernandez Ortiz was critically injured in the March 16 shooting at a Cherokee County spa.
Caption
Elcias Hernandez Ortiz was critically injured in the March 16 shooting at a Cherokee County spa.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

For Hernandez-Ortiz, he knows he could have easily been a ninth victim. He stood face-to-face with the alleged gunman, dropped to the ground and begged Long to spare him, his attorney Doug Rohan previously said. The gunman shot him anyway.

Hernandez-Ortiz was critically injured when the bullet damaged his esophagus but mercifully missed his heart. It’s still lodged in his abdomen, and after a month in the hospital, he is recovering at home.

“As a part of the human race, I want us all to find more room for God in our hearts, and hopefully there will be a stop to these attacks that come from a place of hate,” Hernandez-Ortiz said. “We must all love each other and live in peace together.”

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