By Taylor Mascetta
Say their names. Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63.
These eight individuals died on March 16 when a lone white shooter opened fire in three separate massage spas in Atlanta, Georgia. Six of the eight victims were Asian women, and the massacre heightened fears of anti-Asian rhetoric currently surging throughout America.
The first shooting occurred around 5 p.m. on Tuesday at Young’s Asian Massage, a spa in Cherokee County. Yaun, Tan, Feng, and Michels died here and a fifth, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, survived with significant injuries. Currently, Hernandez-Ortiz is recovering at a hospital and is in critical condition.
Hernandez-Ortiz’s wife, Flor, told the New York Times that her husband faces a long road towards recovery. “Many others died, and my heart breaks for them,” she said through tears. “Whoever did this is not human.”
After responding to a robbery report, authorities discovered three more victims at Gold Spa in northeast Atlanta just 45 minutes later. The final victim was discovered just across the street at Aromatherapy Spa.
The Georgia State Patrol and Crisp County deputies apprehended the suspect without incident around 6:30 p.m. They identified him as Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man from Woodstock, GA. He has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.
Police caught Long as he was traveling south on Interstate 75, with a 9-millimeter gun that he legally purchased that morning from Big Woods Goods gun shop in tow. Long told authorities that planned to commit a similar crime against a business involved with pornography in Florida. Luckily, police found Long after his parents recognized their son from released surveillance images and immediately contacted authorities with information.
Long’s exact motive for the killings is currently unknown, but he told authorities that he targeted the spas to remove a “temptation.” Long stated that struggled with a severe sex-addiction and often took serious measures to eliminate his sexual urges. He had been a previous customer to the two spas located in Atlanta, and authorities are still determining whether he visited Young’s Asian Massage or not before the massacre.
Why he specifically chose these three spots is unclear, but the killings alarmingly targeted a significant number of Asian women. The spas are largely owned by women of Asian descent, and witnesses reported that Long allegedly yelled about his intention to “kill all the Asians” before opening fire. Police revealed that Long denied racial bias in his crime, but they are not ruling out racial bias as a motivating factor.
“Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that the majority of the victims were Asian,” Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement on March 17. “We also know that this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.”
Experts also ruled that it is impossible to take racist motivations out of the equation. “He targeted Asian American women working at establishments catering to people who wanted contact with Asian American women,” said Grace Kao, a professor of Sociology at Yale University. “There’s a perception that [Asian] women should be sexually available to men. I think it would be really dangerous to assume that race had nothing to do with it.”
The massacre comes after months of heightening anti-Asian sentiments spreading throughout America. According to the Stop AAPI Hate organization, 3,975 hate incidents have occurred against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021.
Most of these incidents connect to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as people often spit, coughed, or used derogatory language about spreading the virus towards Asian individuals. Activists say that former President Donald Trump fueled anti-Asian rhetoric at the beginning of the pandemic, as he used racist terminologies such as “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu” to refer to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
The aftermath of the shootings also brought up concerns about white male privilege in America. Despite Long being armed and expressing a desire to kill more, police arrested him without incident. Additionally, the departments hold a questionable reluctance over considering Long’s actions as a hate crime or racially motivated. In an article for USA Today, Marc Ramirez wrote “‘We’re waiting for the evidence,’ [the Asian community] heard those institutions say. But the evidence, they thought, is in our experience. Experience reflecting centuries of white supremacy.”
The sheriff’s department in Cherokee County did come under fire after a press conference on March 17, where Captain Jay Baker equated the killings to Long having a “bad day.” “He was pretty much fed up and had been, kind of, at the end of his rope,” Baker told officials. “And yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
Social media immediately erupted after Baker made these comments, calling him out for demeaning the gravity of Long’s crimes and exemplifying white privilege. “Committing mass murder is not ‘having a bad day.’” author Meena Harris posted in a Tweet on Wednesday. “The sympathy we give to violent white men literally costs lives.” Baker has since been replaced as spokesman on the case.
Vigils are now being held across America in remembrance of the eight victims, and authorities are starting to release more information about their lives.
Delaina Ahsley Yaun González worked at a Waffle House just a few stores away from Young’s Asian Massage. She went with her husband of less than a year, Mario González, to the spa for the first time on Tuesday, and was shot and killed at the scene. She leaves behind a 14-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter.
“[Yaun’s daughter] is not even going to get to know her mom,” Yuan’s sister, Dana Toole, told reporters. “How do you explain that?”
Paul Andre Michels was a hardworking Army veteran who owned a nearby electric company, and Xiaojie Tan was widely known as the sweet, loving owner of Young’s Asian Massage. Daoyou Feng recently started working at Young’s a few months ago, and Hyun Jung Grant was a single parent who worked at the Gold Spa to support her two sons.
Information about the other victims has not yet been released, as authorities work to notify their families.