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One year later | Families of victims in spa shootings reflect on how the past 365 days have changed them

It's been one year since a gunman walked into three different spas in metro Atlanta, shooting and killing eight people. Here's a look at the last 365 days for some.

ATLANTA — It's been exactly one year since a gunman walked into three different spas in metro Atlanta, shooting and killing eight people. It's also been 365 days of heartache, reflection, and grieving for their children, siblings, and loved ones.

Many of them spoke with 11Alive's Paola Suro, on what the past 12 months have been like for them.

Hyun Jung Grant - Gold Spa shooting victim

Grant's son, 23-year-old Randy Park has taken the role of "second mother" to heart. He has been caring for his 21-year-old brother, Eric, since first hearing the news that his "fun and outgoing" mother, died March 16, 2021.

"He’s essentially all I have left in terms of family," Park explained. "Growing up, our babysitter and some of our mom’s friends would tell me I’m Eric’s second mother. Not even father because they know I don’t know what being a father would mean because I’ve never seen that personally."

Grant was a single mother, who worked long, late hours to care for her sons. Park said she never forgot to call and say goodnight, or leave food ready for the brothers to reheat.

"[This last year has] basically just been returning back to routine without our mother, which we've done for the most part, except obviously the missing component is anything related to our mother like goodnight calls," he explained. "So, not having that is something to get used to."

Credit: Provided
Hyun Jung Grant

Park added that when his mother first moved to the United States from Korea, she was a server at a hibachi place, and later became a masseuse when they moved to Georgia.

While in Atlanta, the family lived together in a townhome. The Park brothers moved out of that townhome in September, but had it not been for an increase in rent cost, they would have stayed.

"In my head – this whole thing should not have happened. Eric and I should not be in this position. But nevertheless we are, and with that in mind we can’t let it hinder our ability to live a fulfilling life that she would’ve wanted for us," he said.

Before losing his mother, Park was a student at Georgia State University and also worked part-time at a Korean bakery. 

Through the pandemic, he decided to withdraw from some classes, shifting to full-time work, in order to help his mother with bills. 

When she died, he says that was something he thought he would have to do all on his own, until a fundraiser page created for Grant's sons raised nearly $3 million.

"[At the time], I didn't have time to grieve because I had stuff to figure out - living situation, finances, food, and taking care of Eric. But this meant that I didn't have to give up all my attempts at school and my career path that I wanted," he explained. "I kind of dropped the idea of going to school. I was thinking I would have to work as much and as hard as our mom did. With the GoFundMe page it got flown out the window. I was super grateful for that."

Park said he hopes to head back to school, and on his off-time, take on some of his mother's traditions. He plans on learning to cook oxtail soup, an hours-long endeavor, which his mother used to do with ease. 

But other than cooking, he learned some valuable life lessons from his mother, too.

"The idea of not living selfishly but more so doing what you want to live a fulfilling life for yourself but within moderation of other people’s feelings. That’s probably the biggest thing I learned from her looking back," he said.

Xiaojie Tan - Youngs Asian Massage shooting victim

Tan met her ex-husband, Michael Webb, while living in China. They fell in love and traveled city after city together. At the time, Tan already had a daughter named Jami, who she raised on her own.

"Her friend took her to the hospital on the back of a bicycle. Not only was Jami born healthy, but she gave Jami her family's name, which is almost unheard of... the last name Tan," Webb said.

The two girls were best friends. Webb adopted Jami when she was 10 years old, and the three of them moved to the United States in 2004. Tan quickly realized she wanted to live the "American dream.

"She decided that she quickly wanted to become a business woman and while in Florida, she went and got her nail technician license," Webb recalled. 

Not only was she "petite and fierce," as Jami likes to say, but Tan was also a hard worker. Webb said she invested their money and decided to buy two massage stores.

"That's really the saddest thing about this is I watched how hard she worked and what she sacrificed so she could retire early," Webb said. "She was working very hard toward an early retirement. Then this horrible tragedy happened and she never got to enjoy the fruits of her labor."

Now, Webb works hard in her name. He has devoted this past year to push for gun reform, including universal background checks and implementing waiting periods to purchase a gun. 

He believes had those things been in place, this article and story would not have to be written today.

"We truly believe that had there been even a one day waiting period based on the evidence exactly what we knew happened in the hours leading up to these murders, that probably eight people would still be alive," he said. 

For more on his push for gun reform, click on link below:

RELATED: Family of spa shooting victim joins Georgia AAPI legislators' gun reform talk

Webb and Jami have also been outspoken about hate crimes, releasing a statement the week of the one year anniversary of the shooting.

You can read that on link below:

RELATED: One year later | Family of victim killed in spa shootings releases statement

Credit: Michael Webb

"What I've learned in the past year about hate crimes and violence against Asian people has been shocking," he added. "I hope that through this, we can change this. It's shocking, it's barbaric, and there's no need for it."

Despite their divorce, both stayed close, supporting Jami along the way. They both attended her graduation at Georgia State University. 

"Her mother and I, one of the highlights of our life, was going to her graduation," Webb said, with a smile on his face.

After the incident one year ago, Jami would call her "Papa Bear" every single day. They're both planning a vacation to Italy next year.

"Her mother was the only family that she had here except for me," he said. "They were close, and her mother was very, very proud of Jami. What Jami has to get, has had to go through is unthinkable. So, I just have done my best to be there for her."

Jami continues working as an accountant, and plans to return to her alma mater to get her master's degree.

On her off-time, she spends a lot of time in the gym or kayaking.

"I am going to devote a significant portion of my life not only being a better dad, but as long as people want to listen to what I have to say, I hope I can help at least somebody not have to go through what we've had to go through," Webb added.

Paul Michels - Youngs Asian Massage shooting victim

In a family of nine siblings, John Michels - who was the youngest brother - said he was closest to Paul. 

Although John lives in Michigan and Paul lived in Georgia, state lines did not stop the two from speaking on the phone at least twice a week, that is until March 16, 2021.

"It's been rough. You sit there, you see his phone number and his old cell phone but I can't call him because he can’t call me, because he’s not alive," Michels said. "I miss our conversations about politics and the economy. Sort of hard to talk to someone about what's going on when they're not there."

Michels remembers waking up that fateful morning to news of shootings at different spas. He knew Paul knew the owner of one of the spas and worked there occasionally.

When he got a call from his sister, Anne, he learned Paul was one of the victims.

"We were almost twins. Whatever he did, I pretty much knew about or did with him," he said.

He said Paul was an Army veteran who owned his own business installing security systems. He was a brother to eight siblings, and a husband to his wife; Bonnie.

"It has been very hard on her as he was her husband and basically the love of her life. Just gone. So, she she's having a very rough time with it," Michaels said.

It's also been rough a rough year for Michels, who has not stopped grieving. He lost another brother, Fred, in January.

"We lost two brothers in 10 months. It's been rough," he said. "[Fred] has a nonverbal autistic daughter and older son with a speech impairment. So, this is another challenge."

The family set up a fundraising page to help Fred's family.

Credit: Office of the District Attorney Blue Ridge Judicial District
Paul Michels

Marcus Lyon - Witness of shooting at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor

Marcus Lyon walked into Youngs Asian Massage Parlor March 16, 2021 for his first time, not knowing it would change his life forever.

As he was two minutes into his massage, the Atlanta native heard a gunshot.

One year later, he can still hear that sound.

"I definitely remember," he said. "I hear it every once in a while, when I think about it. I have a son though, so I have to move on because I can't let it stop me."

He doesn't let it stop him but it has definitely changed the way he operates on a day-to-day basis.

"It changed a lot of me – it changed my perspective. Even me going places, I look at people going to the mall or the grocery store, watch people’s waists," he said. "I always keep my gun on me at all times now."

Lyon added he has a concealed carry, and also had it that day. 

"What if I would’ve had my gun in there at that time and then this happened? What would have happened? Would I have gotten shot at? What would have happened? Something would’ve happened," he said.

What's next?

Robert Aaron Long pleaded guilty in Cherokee County, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

“I know the plea arrangement in Cherokee County brought closure to us," Webb said.

As part of the Victims Advocacy Program in the county, Webb said many of the victims' families were brought together a few times prior to the sentencing.

"Those were awkward meetings to begin with, but in five minutes or so, everybody grew very close," he recalled. "Over a two day period prior to the sentencing, we were able to really have a lot of conversation with the families."

Meanwhile, the Fulton County District Attorney plans to seek the death penalty.

“To me, the kid threw his life away," said Michels. "He’s never going to get out of prison. It’s more damaging to him to sit with those memories the rest of his life."

Lyon agrees, adding, "let him think about it every day."

   

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