Jami Webb was planning to celebrate her mother's 50th birthday last week. But Xiaojie Tan, the owner of Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia, was killed Tuesday along with seven others at three Atlanta-area spas in a shooting rampage that has rattled the nation.
"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."
Four people were killed at Tan's Cherokee County spa. Four more were killed about an hour later at two spas some 30 miles away in Atlanta. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.
Tan's ex-husband, Michael Webb, described her as a hardworking woman. Known as Emily by many of her friends and clients, Tan became a nail technician in Florida before buying and running two spas in the Atlanta area, he said. Recently, Tan had told him she'd be able to retire soon.
"This was a massacre," Michael Webb said. "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," he said.
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.
Jack Liang, the organizer of an anti-hate rally Sunday in New York City, said justice would not be served in his eyes if the suspect didn't face hate crime charges.
"He went to three different, separate locations, and he targeted these people," Liang said. "And if it was another race, another type of hate crime, another person, would that be counted as a hate crime?"
Rallies across the country
Lily Huff, an Asian American woman living in Atlanta, told CNN this weekend that hateful comments directed towards her had increased recently, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. She described wearing a mask and someone asking her, "Hey, are you going to give me the virus?"
"This isn't new," she said. "It's been happening -- it's increasingly happened over the past year, just (since) the start of the pandemic."
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Atlanta Saturday, including Timothy Phan, a Florida resident who drove eight hours to attend. He told CNN the violence "hits home."
"I see my mother, I see my acquaintances, my colleagues," he 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 told CNN affiliate KGO at another rally this weekend in San Francisco. "If we don't voice it now when will we?"
"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."
These are the victims of violence
The first shooting occurred at Youngs Asian Massage in Acworth shortly before 5 p.m. on March 16, authorities said. Four people were killed, including 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 but survived.
Within an hour after the first shooting, four Asian women were killed on Piedmont Road in Atlanta -- three at the Gold Massage Spa and one at the Aroma Therapy Spa across the street, authorities said. They were later identified as 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.
Yue's youngest son wrote on GoFundMe that his mom "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.
In another GoFundMe page, one of Kim's grandchildren wrote in a post that she had come to the United States 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.
"She was one of my best friends," her son, Randy Park, wrote on the page, "and the strongest influence on who we are today."
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.
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.
Long 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's church, Crabapple First Baptist Church, announced Sunday morning it had removed him from its memberships ranks, saying in a statement it could "no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ."
The church previously condemned the killings "in the strongest possible terms" in a statement Friday, adding that "no blame can be placed upon the victims."