ATLANTA — For the family members who lost wives, sisters and mothers in the Atlanta spa shootings, March 16, 2021, began and ended with “chaos, denial and deep grief.”
Their pain and loss hasn’t faded a year later.
Michael Webb, whose ex-wife Xiaojie Tan, 49, was among eight people killed in a series of shootings at three spas across the Atlanta metropolitan area, was leaving work when he heard of the incident. He immediately called the couple’s daughter, Jami, and they stayed on the phone together for five hours.
“Each hour we learned of more casualties together. We held onto a small thread of hope until we heard that her mother was dead. Then it was just crying and a pain we’ve carried for 365 days,” Webb recalled during a memorial rally on Wednesday.
His story was one of many at the Justice for Asian Women rally that also featured Atlanta Mayor Andrew Dickens, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and members of the Asian community who all called for a stop to hate crimes and femicide.
Dana Toole, the sister of Delaina Yaun Gonzalez, 33, another of the victims, remembered the frightening text message from her mother that landed on her phone: “Delaina’s been shot.” Those three words stuck in Toole’s head for the next few hours until her mother called back to tell her, “Baby, she’s gone, she’s gone.”
“At first I had no reaction. I was numb and I’ve felt numb and frozen in time since March 16, when I lost my best friend and my sister,” Toole told USA TODAY. “For the families like us, they know we’ll never get them back.”
The victims of March 16, 2021, also included Paul Michels, 54; Daoyou Feng, 44; Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.
Not a day has since passed that Robert Peterson, Yue’s son, hasn’t thought about his mother. During Wednesday’s rally, Peterson said his mother was a Korean American woman who fell in love with a Black military man and worked low-wage jobs to make ends meet.
“She could’ve been your mother or friend and for many of you in this room, she could’ve been you,” Peterson said. “At first, I thought that I was the one who needed encouraging today but now I see there is communal, collective grief we face together.”
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John Michels remembered his brother, Paul, as a loyal husband of 23 years to his wife, Bonnie, and as a man who loved Georgia.
Growing up, Paul and John frequented lakes, water slides and empty railroads in their hometown; out of nine siblings, John said him and Paul were the closest.
“He’s never coming home and that hasn’t quite hit me yet. I still have his number saved and wake up wanting to call him. The reality that I can’t anymore is still hard,” John told USA TODAY.
On March 16, 2021, Amy Liang said she was in her dorm room at Georgia State University when her mother texted her that there was a shooter targeting Asian women in the area. She urged her to stay locked in her room.
Hours later, Liang saw the names of the six Asian women killed and said she saw her mother, sister and herself in their faces
“I felt this inexplicable pain for my ancestors, for my generation, for Asian women everywhere. I felt this fear once again that we could die just for what we look like,” Liang told USA TODAY. “I pray every day for the victims’ families and for our community that felt their loss so deeply.”
How does the local Asian community feel today?
“Still shattered but louder than ever,” said Bonnie Youn, organizer with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta.
“Asian hate crimes isn’t anything new but, for us, for this Atlanta community, this was our 911,” Youn added. “Now we will never be silent again.”
Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda