‘You never know in this crazy world’: Families pick up pieces after spa shootings

Jesus Estrella (from left), Shelby S., and Shannon Deisen show support for the Asian community standing outside Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth, where four people were killed Wednesday.
Jesus Estrella (from left), Shelby S., and Shannon Deisen show support for the Asian community standing outside Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth, where four people were killed Wednesday.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Investigators said Thursday they aren’t ready to release the names of the four women killed at two Atlanta spas during the deadly shooting spree that rattled two metro communities.

“We need to make sure we have a true verification of their identities and that we make a proper next of kin notification,” Atlanta deputy police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said during a news conference.

The four were among eight people killed Tuesday when 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long opened fire at three spas in Cherokee and Fulton counties, according to police. While the names of the four killed in Atlanta weren’t officially released, their lives were grieved anyway, along with the four killed at an Acworth-area spa.

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They included a wife, a business owner, an Army veteran, and at least two mothers. Of those killed, investigators have said six were Asian women.

A small group gathered for a vigil Thursday night outside the Cherokee spa to pay their respects and remember the victims. Dan and Miranda Wicker, who live in Holly Springs, took their young daughter.

“As an Asian member of Cherokee County, I’m less than two percent. Asians make up two percent in this county. And to see the amount of support for lives lost or anybody, it’s important to see that level of support here,” Dan Wicker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Allison Calhoun (left) and Brittany Bengert set up candles during a vigil Thursday night.
Allison Calhoun (left) and Brittany Bengert set up candles during a vigil Thursday night.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Eight months before the shooting, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, welcomed her second child, her family said. Caring for the girl, of course, consumed Yaun and her husband’s lives when they weren’t working.

Yaun worked full time at Waffle House and also supervised a roofing crew, but she was off Tuesday night, and so was her husband. They went to Youngs Asian Massage near Acworth for a massage.

”This is their first evening out,” said Yaun’s grandfather, James Yaun Sr., standing in his doorway, shaking his head slowly. “The grandmother was keeping the baby so they could go out and have a good time.”

Then a gunman appeared, opening fire inside the business, killing Yaun and three others. Her husband survived.

”You never know in this crazy world these days,” James Yaun said.

ExploreMourners 30 miles apart remember victims of deadly spa shootings

The spa’s owner, Xiaojie Tan, was also killed. Her friends told Channel 2 Action News that Tan’s daughter recently graduated from the University of Georgia. Tan would have turned 50 years old Thursday, two days after her death.

Brittany Bengert (middle) speaks to the crowd Thursday night during a vigil outside the Acworth spa where four people were killed Tuesday.
Brittany Bengert (middle) speaks to the crowd Thursday night during a vigil outside the Acworth spa where four people were killed Tuesday.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Greg Hynson, 54, is a longtime customer of the Acworth business who got to know Tan, who he and many others called Emily, as a friend.

”It was almost instantaneous,” he told the AJC. “She was a really sweet, kind person. She treated everybody fairly, equally. She was very unselfish. There’s a whole list of things.”

Hynson, a former bodybuilder who has long used massage therapy, said he also just liked to stop by the shop and say hello. He recalled often seeing Paul Andre Michels, 54, a construction worker who did work on the store for Tan and was killed in the shooting.

“During down time, we’d sit around and talk,” Hynson said.

U.S. Army veteran Latrelle Rolling pauses to pray after dropping off flowers at Youngs Asian Massage.
U.S. Army veteran Latrelle Rolling pauses to pray after dropping off flowers at Youngs Asian Massage.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Michels’ younger brother, John Michels, 52, told USA Today he believes his brother was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

He said they grew up with a total of nine siblings in Detroit and both served in the U.S. Army at the same time. Paul Michels had served as an infantryman in the late 1980s, his brother said.

“I’m the closest in age, so we were basically like twins,” John said. “We did everything together growing up.”

Hynson said he wished he could’ve gotten to know Daoyou Feng, 44, better. She’d only been working at the spa a month or two before being killed. Hynson said he could tell she was warm and easy to get along with.

Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz was also shot, but he survived and remained in the hospital Thursday. His wife detailed Ortiz’s injuries on a GoFundMe page.

“He was shot in the forehead down to his lungs and into his stomach,” Flora Gonzalez Gomez wrote. “He will be needing facial surgery.”

“Please pray for my family and the families that were affected by this shooting,” she also wrote.

Inge Pfleger, a Woodstock woman, said she had a special reason for attending the vigil.

“I myself have been a victim of gunshots,” she said. “Women are often the victims, and whether they are Asians or Americans, we have to stand up and say this is not right.”

The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said investigators have positively identified three of the women killed at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa on Piedmont Road, but are waiting to identify the fourth before releasing the victims’ names. Police said they are working with the Korean consulate during the process.

“We had four Asian females that were killed, and so we are looking at everything to make sure that we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides (was),” Hampton said.

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