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‘This was a massacre.’ Family of Atlanta shooting victim are calling for justice

Jami Webb says she was planning to celebrate her mother’s 50th birthday this week. But Xiaojie Tan, who owned Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia, was among eight people who lost their lives Tuesday in a shooting rampage that has rattled the nation.

Four people were killed at the Cherokee County spa, and four more about an hour later at two spas some 30 miles away in Atlanta. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.

“I just want to hold her tight,” Webb told CNN about her mother. “Give her a hug… hold her hand, hug her for a long time.”

Tan’s ex-husband, Michael Webb, says he just wants justice.

“I think what makes a difference to us… is that justice is done,” he said. “This was a massacre. We have a justice system and he’ll have to be held accountable. And our family will be involved in that process as much as we can be.”

“We just want justice to be done and we’re hopeful that it will be.”

Both residents and public health officials have called on investigators to consider hate crime charges against the suspect, whether on the basis of race or sex — both of which are covered in Georgia’s hate crime law.

“The acknowledgment that this was a crime built upon hatred for a particular community matters and I think that it’s important that prosecutors and police consider that in making those charges,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN on Saturday.

Rallies across the country

Following the shootings, Americans gathered in rallies all across the country, both honoring the victims and condemning violence against Asian Americans — which has surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in an Atlanta rally Saturday. One Florida resident, who drove eight hours to attend, told CNN the violence “hits home.”

“I see my mother, I see my acquaintances, my colleagues,” Timothy Phan said. “This is an Asian issue but on top of that, this is more than that, this is a human issue.”

“We’re in this struggle together,” Henry Wong, in San Francisco, told CNN affiliate KGO at another rally this weekend. “If we don’t voice it now when will we?”

Just last week, the San Francisco Police Department announced it was boosting patrols in predominantly Asian neighborhoods in response to an “alarming spike in brazen anti-Asian violence in recent weeks.”

“One of the biggest problems in fighting hate crimes is that too many of the incidents are not recorded,” California Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, who introduced a bill to establish a statewide hate crime hotline, told CNN. “We want to make it as easy and safe as possible for people to report these incidents of hate crime.”

“The women who died, they looked just like me, they look like my mom, they look like my aunties,” New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said during a rally in Manhattan Saturday. “They look like us.”

At least 10 suspected anti-Asian hate crimes were committed in New York City between January 1 and March 14, according to data from the New York Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force.

These are the victims of the Atlanta shootings

These are the victims of violence

The victims include 49-year-old Tan of Kennesaw; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; and Daoyou Feng, 44, who were fatally shot at Youngs Asian Massage. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was also shot at Youngs Asian Massage but survived.

Within an hour after the first shooting, four Asian women were killed in Atlanta — three at the Gold Massage Spa, and one at the Aroma Therapy Spa across the street, authorities said. They were: Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.

One of the four victims in Atlanta was a South Korean citizen and permanent resident of the US, according to Kwangsuk Lee, South Korea’s deputy consulate general in Atlanta. The other three are believed to be Americans of Korean ethnicity, Lee told CNN on Friday.

Charlie Yoon Kim, president of the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta told CNN he received phone calls from two families of victims who shared their financial difficulties after the sudden tragedy and “asked us if we could help them.”

“They were worried about rents and utility fees and other practical costs including the funeral process,” Kim said.

The association is now planning on raising funds to provide support to the victims’ families, Kim added.

“All Asian groups and associations are willing to join in raising support for the people who are affected by this incident, so I hope we can find some practical help for them,” Kim told CNN.

Grief and hardship left behind

One GoFundMe page for Yaun’s family says, “We just don’t know how to do any of this alone. If you can find it in your heart to donate, our Family will certainly appreciate all of your support.”

A GoFundMe page dedicated to help the two sons of Grant, killed at the Gold Massage Spa in Atlanta, has raised more than $2.5 million.

“Frankly, I have no time to grieve for long,” her son, Randy Park, wrote on the page. “I will need to figure out the living situation for my brother and I for the next few months, possibly year. As of now I have been advised to move out of my current home within the end of March to save money and find a new place to live.”

In another GoFundMe page, this one for Kim, one of her grandchildren wrote in a post Kim migrated to the US from South Korea and worked two to three jobs while speaking very little English.

“My grandmother was an angel, to have her taken away in such a horrific manner is unbearable to think about. As an immigrant, all my grandmother ever wanted in life was to grow old with my grandfather, and watch her children and grandchildren live the life she never got to live,” the page says.

In another page, Yue’s youngest son wrote on GoFundMe his mom was “loved to introduce our family and friends to her home-cooked Korean food and Korean karaoke.”

“We are still in shock over the violent murder of our mother, but through our grieving we are making plans to memorialize her, bring our family together, and resolve her financial matters,” he wrote.

A GoFundMe page was also started by the wife of Hernandez-Ortiz — who was the sole survivor of the shootings — to help with medical bills.

Hernandez-Ortiz was shot in the forehead and the bullet traveled down into his lungs and into his stomach, his wife, Flora Gonzalez Gomez wrote on the page, adding he is now in intensive care in the hospital.

Suspect charged with murder

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was arrested Tuesday night in a traffic stop 150 miles south of Atlanta.

He told police he believed he had a sex addiction and that he saw the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate,” Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker said on Wednesday.

He claimed the attacks weren’t racially motivated, Baker added. But Atlanta police say it’s still too early to know the suspect’s motive.

Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace said the investigation is ongoing and appropriate charges will be brought.

Long is being held without opportunity for bail in Cherokee County, where he faces four counts of murder with malice, one count of attempted murder, one count of aggravated assault and five counts of using a firearm while committing a felony.

He has been charged with four counts of murder in connection with the two spa shootings in Atlanta, according to Atlanta police.

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