ACWORTH, Ga. – A spa owner, an Army veteran and a new bride who wanted to be pampered with her husband were among the victims of a Georgia man’s shooting rampage that rocked the nation and highlighted the violence faced by the Asian American community.
Seven women and one man were killed in attacks Tuesday on three massage spas in and around Atlanta. Most of the victims were of Asian descent, although the alleged killer says neither race nor ethnicity played a role in the carnage.
The Atlanta victims have not been named, but the South Korean Foreign Ministry confirmed four of the women were of Korean descent. A few miles north, in Cherokee County, the victims were identified as Xiaojie Tan, 49, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, was wounded but survived.
Xiaojie Tan was listed as the owner of a limited liability corporation associated with Young’s Asian Massage and another spa. Authorities say two Asian women, one white woman and one white man were killed at Young’s.
Tan emigrated to the United States from China many years ago, and had an adult daughter who recently graduated from the University of Georgia, said friend and customer Greg Hynson.
Hynson, 54, said he had been seeing Tan as his massage therapist for a stiff neck and upper back for about six years. They both live in the area and had become good friends, he said.
“She was the sweetest person you’d ever meet,” he told USA TODAY. “My heart was in my throat the second I heard of it. It still doesn’t seem real.”
Hyson said Tan, who was known by friends as Emily, was a hardworking small-business owner. He said she always had a kind word for friends. Last October, she had a cake waiting for him on his birthday when he came to the spa.
Hyson, who runs a rubber supply company started by his father, said Tan’s staff usually lived at her large nearby home when they first arrived from China, and seemed focused mostly on earning money for their families. He said Feng had only recently started working at the spa.
Hyson angrily rejected speculation Tan’s spa was providing sex services. The suspect in the fatal shootings told authorities he blamed the massage businesses for providing an outlet for his addiction to sex.
All three spas are listed on Rubmaps.ch, an erotic review site that allows users to search for and review illicit massage parlors. The site is the most popular of its kind, where buyers who call themselves “hobbyists” or “mongers” looking for sex go to find and share information, according to a study by Polaris, a nonprofit group that operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
“You’re coming here to get a massage. All these girls that have worked for her over the years are working for her on their own free will,” he said. “They’re here for a better life. They’re diligent and work hard and all the money they make is going toward a better life for their family.”
Paul Michels, who also died at the spa in Acworth, owned an alarm company in Atlanta, where he and his wife, Bonnie, have lived 26 years, his brother John said. Paul Michels had expressed interest in owning a spa.
“He was just a very hard-working Republican,” John said, “and a very strong Trump supporter.”
John Michels says his brother was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” They grew up with nine siblings in Detroit, riding dirt bikes and spending summer weekends at a lake and getting into mischief together, he said. They both served in the U.S. Army at the same time and his brother served as an infantryman in the late 1980s.
“I’m the closest in age, so we were basically like twins,” John, 52, said. “We did everything together growing up.”
Even in grief, John insisted on putting out a message to the alleged killer: “Although this is a tragedy, I forgive that man and so will Jesus Christ … I cannot hate him for it. I pray for his repentance.”
Yaun leaves behind a 13-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter. She and her husband have been married for less than a year.
Her mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV, that her daughter and son-in-law went to the spa on a date. When the shooting happened, Yaun’s husband locked himself in a room and wasn’t injured, said Yaun’s half-sister, Dana Toole.
“He’s taking it hard,” Toole said. “He was there. He heard the gunshots and everything. You can’t escape that when you’re in a room and gunshots are flying – what do you do?”
“We could really use the help to cover her funeral expenses,” loved ones say on a GoFundMe page. “She has two beautiful babies she is leaving behind. 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.”
Little has been revealed about Daoyou Feng. The survivor, Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, is hospitalized in intensive care.
His wife, Flor Gonzalez, told USA TODAY in an interview her husband was on the way to a business next door to the massage parlor, where he sends money to family back home. He called her as the shooting was unfolding.
“They shot me, they shot me, come help me please,” she said Hernandez-Ortiz begged. Those were the last words Gonzalez has been able to hear from him, she said on the verge of tears.
The couple is originally from San Marcos, Guatemala an impoverished department located in the Central American country’s rugged mountains. Hernandez-Ortiz came to the United States almost a decade ago. His wife and their 9-year-old daughter joined him in Georgia in 2015.
She said the family depends on Hernandez-Ortiz’s work to survive.
“There are so many people that depend on him,” Gonzalez said. “I know he is strong and will come out of this for all of us.”
Although his wife said he is stable, Hernandez-Ortiz is currently intubated and due to have surgery as early as next week to remove the bullet in his abdomen.
Gonzalez said she is scared about surgery costs and piling medical bills. Together with some help, she set up a GoFundMe page, where she wrote he was shot in the forehead, lungs and stomach.
The shooter continued his attack about 45 minutes later at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa in Midtown Atlanta. All four victims of the Atlanta shootings were Asian women, police said. Police had not yet released their names Thursday morning.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: Dennis Wagner, Ryan W. Miller, Nicholas Wu, Cara Kelly, Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.
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