Slain Georgia spa worker toiled tirelessly to support her family

Southeast

Flowers and signs are displayed at a makeshift memorial outside of the Gold Spa in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Police in the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County say they’ve begun extra patrols in and around Asian businesses there following the shooting at three massage parlors in the area that killed eight, most of them women of Asian descent. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — Hyun Jung Grant loved disco and club music, often strutting or moonwalking while doing household chores and jamming with her sons to tunes blasting over the car stereo.

The single mother found ways to enjoy herself despite working “almost every day” to support two sons, said the older son, 22-year-old Randy Park.

“I learned how to moonwalk because, like, I saw her moonwalking while vacuuming when I was a kid,” Park said.

On Tuesday night, Park was at home playing video games when he heard a gunman had opened fire at the Atlanta massage business where his mother worked. He rushed to the scene and then to a police station to find out more information. But it was through word of mouth that he learned his mother was dead.

Grant, 51, was among eight people killed by gunfire at three metro Atlanta massage businesses. The Fulton County medical examiner released her identity Friday along with those of three other victims: Soon C. Park 74; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63.

Authorities in nearby Cherokee County had previously identified the others as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Xiaojie Tan, 49, who owned one of the massage businesses.

Seven of the slain were women, and six of them were of Asian descent. Police charged a 21-year-old white man with the killings, saying he was solely responsible for the deadliest U.S. mass shooting since 2019.

The situation has been harrowing for Park, who said he has not been able to claim his mother’s body from the medical examiner’s office because of a complication with her last name, which is legally Grant. Park said that name is from a marriage he does not recall, and he can’t find papers showing a separation to prove that he is the next of kin.

Authorities have said Robert Aaron Long, who is charged with eight counts of murder, told them he wasn’t motivated by race. Park dismissed the idea that the shootings weren’t fueled by anti-Asian sentiment. Still, he said that his mother raised him to believe that people are fundamentally good, though “sometimes, things go horribly wrong.”

It wasn’t immediately clear which of the Atlanta businesses employed Grant.

Her job was a sensitive subject, Park said, noting the stigma often associated with massage businesses. She told her sons that they should tell others she worked doing makeup with her friends.

Ultimately, Park said, he didn’t care what she did for work.

“She loved me and my brother enough to work for us, to dedicate her whole life,” he said. “That’s enough.”

Michels owned a business installing security systems, a trade he learned after moving to the Atlanta area more than 25 years ago.

He’d been talking about switching to a new line of work, but never got the chance. He was fatally shot at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor on Tuesday, along with three others.

“From what I understand, he was at the spa that day doing some work for them,” said Michels’ younger brother, John Michels of Commerce, Michigan.

Paul Michels also might have been talking with the spa’s owner about how the business operates, his brother said, because he had been thinking about opening a spa himself.

“His age caught up to him. You get to a point where you get tired of climbing up and down ladders,” John Michels said. “He was actually looking to start his own massage spa. That’s what he was talking about last year.”

Paul Michels grew up in Detroit in a large family where he was the seventh of nine children. His brother John was No. 8.

Though they were born 2 1/2 years apart, “he was basically my twin,” John Michels said. Both enlisted in the Army after high school, with Paul joining the infantry.

A few years after leaving the military, Paul followed his brother to the Atlanta area in 1995 for a job doing low-voltage electrical work, installing phones and security systems. He also met his wife, Bonnie, and they were married more than 20 years.

“He was a good, hard-working man who would do what he could do to help people,” John Michels said. “He’d loan you money if you needed it sometimes. You never went away from his place hungry.”

Tuesday had been planned as a day for Yaun to relax.

Yaun and her husband arranged for someone to care for their 8-month-old daughter while they headed to Youngs Asian Massage Parlor. Family members said the couple were first-time customers, eager for a chance to unwind.

They were in separate rooms inside the spa when the gunman opened fire. Yaun was killed. Her husband escaped unharmed.

“They’re innocent. They did nothing wrong,” Yaun’s weeping mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV. “I just don’t understand why he took my daughter.”

Yaun’s husband could hear the gunfire inside the spa but was helpless to save his wife, said Dana Toole, Yaun’s sister.

“He’s taking it hard,” Toole said. “When you’re in a room and gunshots are flying, what do you do?”

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