Metro Atlanta marks two years since deadly spa shootings

Here’s what happened on March 16, 2021, as well as a schedule of events for Thursday’s two-year anniversary
Metro Atlanta marks two years since deadly spa shootings
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 3:10 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 16, 2023 at 11:45 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - March 16, 2021, dawned in metro Atlanta with rain and morning temperatures in the mid-50s. By sunset, temperatures had dropped a few degrees into the 40s while heavy rains continued falling.

But what the rains couldn’t wash away were the tears of anguish and terror that flowed from the families, friends, and neighbors of eight people who fell victim to one of metro Atlanta’s deadliest days in history.

Two years later, a series of events are planned to mark the shootings that targeted Asian spa workers, shootings that left entire communities of thousands traumatized to this day.

At 2 p.m., Woodstock resident Robert Aaron Long, then 21, bought a gun and ammunition from Big Woods Goods in Holly Springs. Long’s plan, he would later tell the police, was to commit suicide. Instead, he then drove to a liquor store and purchased bourbon.

Then, Long drove to Youngs Asian Massage Parlor near Acworth in a dark Hyundai SUV. Outside, he sat in his vehicle and drank the bourbon before going inside. At 4:54 p.m., Long began shooting, killing four people and injuring a fifth. Surveillance cameras captured him leaving the business.

At 5:47 p.m., Atlanta police responded to a robbery report at the Gold Spa on Piedmont Road about 30 miles away. Police found three women shot to death. Then police were told shots had been fired across the street at the Aromatherapy Spa. There, police found another woman shot to death.

RELATED: Who were the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings?

At 8 p.m., Sheriff Frank Reynolds, sheriff of Cherokee County (where the first shootings had taken place) contacted law enforcement in central Georgia the suspect was believed to be driving south on I-75. Crisp County deputies spotted Long’s SUV, and Georgia State Patrol troopers stopped Long’s vehicle using a PIT maneuver. He was arrested and booked and later returned to Cherokee County.

Six out of eight of the victims were of Asian descent. The killings sparked nationwide conversations about race and hostility toward Asian Americans, during a time when numerous attacks against Asians and Asian Americans were being reported across the country.

Since then, Long has been convicted of murder after pleading guilty in Cherokee County. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace did not pursue hate crimes charges, pointing out that one of the victims there was Hispanic and another was white.

But Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis did pursue hate crime charges explaining that in her view, Long’s “sex addiction” reasoning is not a valid defense and constitutes a hate crime.

Long currently awaits trial in Fulton County for four other murders, where Willis has announced she will seek the death penalty. Long has pled not guilty in Fulton County.

On Thursday at 8:30 a.m., a news conference was hosted by the Atlanta Spa Shootings Memorial at the state capitol. Watch below:

WATCH LIVE: Metro Atlanta marks two years since deadly spa shootings

LIVE: Metro Atlanta marks two years since deadly spa shootings.

Posted by Atlanta News First on Thursday, March 16, 2023

An Atlanta Justice Rally was held Thursday at the Georgia Freight Depot. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock also delivered remarks on the Senate floor.

On Wednesday, Georgia Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff shared this message:

On Friday, March 17, a screening of the PBS documentary “Rising Against Asian Hate: One Day in March” will be held at 6:30 p.m.

The film debuted last year, and Robert Petersen, the son of shooting victim Yong Ae Yue, said, “my mother was a joy.”

“She loved cooking, food, she had family. She was probably like your mother, but my mother is not here because someone took her away in the most violent way.”

Margaret is the mother of one of the other victims, Delaina Gonzalez, who was at the Young Asian’s Massage parlor for a relaxing day with her husband. She said it’s still hard every day but every March she and her family visit Gonzalez’s gravesite to honor her life.

“He took so many innocent people away; my daughter was one of them. She was a wonderful person she didn’t deserve this,” Margaret said.

Greg Hyson said he was friends with the owner of the Young Asian’s Massage parlor, Xiaojie Tan, and every March 16, he tries to remember the best parts about the time they spent together.

“It’s a lot of pain,” Hyson said. “I don’t think that’s something that will ever go away because of the manner everything happened it was just so senseless. I just do my best to keep her in my thoughts and prayers and try to remember her in the best light that I can.”

Tan immigrated to the U.S. from China with her daughter, Jami Webb, with aspirations of retiring and traveling the world with her family. She was two days away from celebrating her 50th birthday with her daughter.

“I was just planning to get a cake and have a big dinner afterwards,” Webb said.