Memorial pays tribute to victims on anniversary of spa shootings

FILE-In this Tuesday, March 16, 2021 file photo, authorities investigate a fatal shooting at a massage parlor, in Acworth, Ga. Asian American leaders plan to gather in Atlanta for a Community Remembrance Day remembering the victims of the shootings a year ago at massage businesses in the Atlanta area. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

Nearly a year after eight people were killed in a mass shooting at three Atlanta-area spas, many of them women of Asian descent, community members came together Saturday to remember the victims at a memorial tribute.

More than 150 people gathered at a park to listen to family members of victims and members of Atlanta’s Asian American community speak about the shootings and their impact on their lives, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Robert Peterson, whose mother, Yong Ae Yue, was killed in one of the shootings, addressed those who showed up at the Atlanta tribute in frigid, late winter weather.

“I miss her food. I miss her waiting by the door when we came over. I just miss all those small things we took for granted when she was here,” Peterson said, according to the newspaper’s account.

Family members of other victims penned letters about the effect the shooting has had on their families and their lives.

The shooting galvanized the city’s Asian American community when it came to light that six of the eight shooting victims were women of Asian descent.

Those killed were: Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54; Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.

Last March 16, then-21-year-old Robert Aaron Long opened fire at Youngs Asian Massage in Cherokee County, killing four people — three of them women and two of Asian descent — at Youngs Asian Massage in Cherokee County, police said. Authorities said a fifth person was shot and wounded.

Long then drove to Atlanta, where he shot and killed three women at Gold Spa before crossing the street to Aromatherapy Spa and killing another woman, according to authorities. All of the Atlanta victims were of Asian descent.

Authorities said at the time that Long had asserted his actions were not racially motivated and were instead prompted by a “sex addiction,” which sparked outrage and skepticism among the Asian American community.

Last July, Long pleaded guilty to murder and other charges for those he killed in Cherokee County and was sentenced to life without parole.

Long, 22, still faces charges, including murder, in the Atlanta killings, where the Fulton County district attorney is seeking the death penalty. Long has pleaded not guilty in Fulton County, and a hearing in that case is scheduled for next month.

District Attorney Fani Willis said she believes race and gender played a role in Long’s motivation for the Atlanta killings, and she’s seeking a sentencing enhancement under the state’s hate crimes law.