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‘Sweetest, Most Kind Hearted’: New Details Emerge About The Victims Of The Atlanta Massage Parlor Shootings

Among the eight victims killed in a string of shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors included a tired mom looking for a night away, a man who installed security systems and a spa owner, just days away from her 50th birthday. 

By Jill Sederstrom
Youngs Asian Spa G 1

Xiaojie “Emily” Tan—the owner of Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth—was shot to death just two days before her 50th birthday.

Tan had been the mother of a recent graduate of the University of Georgia and is remembered by those who knew her as “the sweetest, most kind hearted, giving, never-met-a-stranger person,” according to local station WSB-TV.

Greg Hynson, who had been Tan’s friend and a regular customer at the spa, told the local outlet that he still can’t believe his friend of six years is gone and described the violence as “just so surreal.”

“They were friends, they loved everybody,” he said of the staff at the spa. “It was just the nicest group of people. I can’t put any reasoning behind why somebody would want to do something so horrific to such nice people.”

Tan is one of eight people who lost their lives after a gunman opened fire at three different Atlanta-area massage parlors Tuesday night. A suspect in the case, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long was later taken into custody Tuesday in Crisp County on his way to Florida.

Authorities have said six of the victims killed in the rampage were women of Asian descent. The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office has positively identified the first four victims, who were killed at Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth, as Tan, Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; and Paul Andre Michels, 54.

Long’s alleged shooting spree continued less than an hour later at two businesses on Piedmont Road in Atlanta — Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa — where an additional four victims, identified as Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; Young Ae Yue, 63; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51, were killed, People reports.

Long allegedly walked into Youngs Asian Spa around 5 p.m. Tuesday and opened fire, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Yaun and her husband had arranged for someone to care for their 8-month daughter while they headed to Youngs Asian Massage Parlor. Family members said the couple were first-time customers, eager for a chance to unwind.

They were in separate rooms inside the spa when the gunfire erupted. Yaun was killed. Her husband escaped unharmed.

“They’re innocent. They did nothing wrong,” Yaun’s weeping mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV. “I just don’t understand why he took my daughter.”

Yaun’s husband, Mario Gonzales, could hear the gunfire inside the spa but was helpless to save his wife, said Dana Toole, Yaun’s sister.

“He’s taking it hard,” Toole said. “When you’re in a room and gunshots are flying, what do you do?”

Gonzales later told the Spanish language news site Mundo Hispanico authorities had kept him handcuffed at a police station for hours before telling him his wife was dead.

“They had me at the police station for all that time until they investigated who was responsible or what happened,” she said. “In the end, they told me my wife had died.”

He went on to say that authorities had “treated me very badly.” He questioned whether his Mexican heritage had played a role in the alleged treatment he received.

Michels owned a business installing security systems, a trade he learned after moving to the Atlanta area more than 25 years ago. He’d been talking about switching to a new line of work.

“From what I understand, he was at the spa that day doing some work for them,” said Michels’ younger brother, John Michels of Commerce, Michigan.

Paul Michels also might have been talking with the spa’s owner about how the business operates, his brother said, because he had been thinking about opening a spa himself.

“His age caught up to him. You get to a point where you get tired of climbing up and down ladders,” John Michels said. “He was actually looking to start his own massage spa. That’s what he was talking about last year.”

Hynson told The New York Times that Feng had starting working at the spa just a few months before she was killed.

Randy Park, the son of victim Hyun Jung Grant, described the 51-year-old to NBC News as a dedicated mother who had worked tirelessly to provide for her family.

“She spent her whole life just existing for my brother and I. She never had time to travel,” Park said. “She would only be home a certain amount of days every few weeks.”

Grant had moved the family to Atlanta about 13 years ago to find a better life and be more connected with the area’s rich Korean history, Park said.

But the move meant Grant was forced to work long hours.

“Obviously, she didn’t have much money when she came. For at least a year, she had to leave us with another family. We never saw her; we would just get calls from her. We didn’t have cellphones at the time,” Park said.

In an interview with ABC News, Park called his single mother “quite literally the only thing keeping us running.”

When she did have free time, Park said his mother loved disco music, dancing at clubs and Korean drama and horror films.

“She was a big kid,” he told NBC News. “She essentially behaved like a teenager.”

One of his last memories of his mother shortly before she died was dancing with her to the electronic music song “The Business” by Tiesto as they laughed and smiled together.

If he could speak to her now, he said he would tell her how much he appreciated the sacrifices she made in her life.

“You did a good job,” he said. “You’ve done enough and finally get some sleep and rest.”

Park said he plans to follow in his mother’s footsteps and take care of his younger brother.

“I’ve been sheltered and taken care of my whole life, and now I have to do the same for my brother,” he told ABC News, adding that while at night he’s a “train wreck” as he processes the loss, during the day, he doesn’t have time to be upset because there is so much work to do.

Suncha Kim, 69, is remembered by her family as a “fighter” who had migrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea to provide a better life for her family, according to a GoFundMe account set up to raise money for funeral services.

Kim often worked two to three jobs to provide for her family, including two children, three grandchildren and a husband she had “planned to grow old with.”

“She represented everything I wanted to be as a woman, without an ounce of hate or bitterness in her heart,” her granddaughter Hillary Li wrote. “People that were close to me, knew that my grandmother was my rock.”

When she wasn’t a work, a family member told The New York Times Kim liked to line dance and described the family as “just a regular American family” who “worked really hard.”

“To have her taken away as a perfectly healthy elderly woman by such a heinous crime broke my heart,” her granddaughter wrote on GoFundMe. “I will never see her again but I am left with only happy memories of her and the beautiful life she lived.”

Soon Chung Park—the oldest victim to be killed—had lived in New York before she moved to Atlanta and had continued to stay close with her relatives, according to her son-in-law Scott Lee.

“She got along with her family so well,” Lee told The New York Times in Korean.

Yue, 63, reportedly moved to the United States in the 1970s after meeting her husband Mac Peterson while he was stationed in South Korea with the Army, the newspaper reports. The couple, who shared two sons, later moved to Georgia.

The 63-year-old had loved to dote on her children and grandchildren and her Shih Tzu mix dog, and found joy reading, watching soap operas and cooking, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“My mother didn’t do anything wrong,” her son Robert Peterson told the news outlet. “And she deserves the recognition that she is a human, she’s a community person like everyone else. None of those people deserved what happened to them.”

Long is now facing eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault for the slayings. He told investigators he targeted the businesses because he was a sex addict who wanted to rid himself of the temptation; however, the attack comes amid a time of rising bias attacks against Asian-Americans across the country and authorities are also still trying to determine whether the violence would be considered a hate crime.

The Associated Press contributed to this article

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