As of Wednesday, March 17, federal agents joined a team investigating a shooting rampage that led to eight dead on the evening of Tuesday, March 16. There were three separate shootings, and all took place within an hour of each other in three different Atlanta, GA area spas. Six out of eight of the victims who lost their lives were Asian women. Authorities arrested suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, GA. The suspect admitted to the crimes, but he denied them being racially motivated. He told investigators that he suffers with a sex addiction and wanted to eliminate areas that he saw as temptation to him, such as the spas. Long has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.
All eight victims have been identified: Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Yan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. One other victim, Elcias R Hernandez-Ortiz, was identified as being shot and injured by the shooter. In the face of such unprecedented violence, the families of the victims are grieving the unexpected losses.
Mother of victim Delaina Ashley Yaun says, “Just pray for my family. Pray that we can get through this. This is the hardest thing I've ever, ever in my whole life, had to deal with.”
Her mother also told reporters that Yaun has left behind a 14-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter.
On 10:30 am on Wednesday morning, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms along with the Atlanta Police Department held a press conference to address the shootings. Bottoms remarked of the crimes during the conference, “a crime against any community is a crime against us all.” Although the gunman claimed upon being taken into custody that the crimes were not racially motivated, officials have stated that it is still too early on in the investigation to officially rule out a hate crime. With six out of eight of the victims being of Asian heritage, the Asian American community is shaken once again.
This particular incident comes during difficult times for the Asian American community. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, due to racist rhetoric regarding the virus, Stop AAPI Hate has released a report saying there have been over 3,600 hate crimes against Asian Americans over the last year. Although the motives are still unclear, many prominent political figures have stood up in solidarity with the nation’s Asian community.
Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday, “We're not yet clear about the motive but I do want to say to our Asian-American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people. But knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hate.”
Recently elected Democratic senator Raphael Warnock remarked on Twitter, “My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives. Once again we see that hate is deadly. Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community.”
In several other cities across the US, extra police presence has been ordered in communities of color, specifically communities with a high number of Asian residents. In both Seattle and New York City, police were dispatched for extra protection in Asian American communities.
University students have joined the “Stop Asian Hate” movement and done their part to spread awareness. Alice Ke ’23 VSB (@artbyake on Instagram), Abbie Cho ’23 VSB and Ascend Villanova, the Pan-Asian Business society at VSB, (@ascend.villanova on Instagram) are responsible for a large mural on the Bartley Hall chalk wall. It says, “Stop Asian Hate,” “Stand up for Asians,” “#Hateisavirus,” and provides the resource Stopaapihate.org for people to go to if they are looking to help. For more about the mural, students can go to @villanovabusiness on Instagram.
“As an Asian American student at a PWI, visibility for my experience as a minoritized identity has certainly been a struggle for myself and my fellow Asian American students at Villanova. I’ve been honored to have been given the opportunity to shed light on this struggle and speak out against the atrocities against my community not only in this past year, but in the larger context of Asians in the United States with this mural,” says Ke.
However, Ke and the rest of Ascend wish the University would have taken action to spread awareness sooner. She says, “The mural has been up since March 8th, and with Asian American and Pacific Islander hate having been an issue for far longer, we challenge Villanova to be proactive in addressing such serious issues rather than reactive by following in the lagging footsteps of mass media.”
Ke also shared some opportunities with the Villanovan for students who want to get involved. Ascend will be organizing a sticker sale to raise funds to donate to several organizations that support the Asian American community. Additionally, there will be a dialogue this upcoming Thursday to address systemic racism against Asian Americans and the ongoing violence against their community.
Several University students that are part of the AAPI community have also expressed concern regarding their safety in these times. These students, similarly to Ke, urge people to be proactive in spreading awareness rather than taking to social media to spread awareness only after an event such as the one in Atlanta takes place.
Jenn Patron, CLAS ’24, comments, “When I go off campus, sometimes I feel scared that something is going to happen to me just for being Asian, and I worry about who is going to be the next victim of a hate crime. It angers me that mainstream media has not been covering this issue as much as they should and it's frustrating to know that it's mostly our elders being targeted.”
Daniel Kwon, VSB ’24, shares, “It truly hurts me to hear my own family and friends ‘scared to leave their own house’ as if we’re living in some sort of war. I’ve actually had a close Korean friend of mine attacked in Philly a month ago. This has become worse due to COVID-19, but I’d like it to not take away from the already-existing Asian American hate that existed in many communities. Hate really is a disease, like many are saying, and the only cure for it is love, and love is hard. But I urge people to reflect and better themselves and try to just be more loving and receptive before posting and ‘raising awareness’—and maybe before terrible tragedies like these unfold.”
Peter Tran, College of Engineering ’22 and president of the Asian Students Association on campus, says of the shootings and his experience as an Asian American, “The Atlanta Shooting was, in a single word, appalling. At least for me, as well as the Asian students I know, there's a part of us that is constantly in fear of someone we love getting attacked for how they look or where they are from. No one should be living in fear. America was built upon the backs of immigrants and I can't even begin to comprehend why you would feel hate or disdain towards another person, who came here in hopes of a new beginning. At the end of the day, no matter our skin color, our culture, or our language, we all bleed the same color.”
On March 19, the University released a statement on behalf of the office of the president via email to students regarding the ongoing hate towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community.
“We write today not just to mourn the deaths of the eight victims – six of whom have been identified as Asian American women – or to decry the acts of hostility often aimed at the most vulnerable in the Asian communities, but to say at Villanova we hold tenderly all members of the American Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in our hearts and offer ourselves in kinship and support. It is in times like these, we need to hear the cries of all communities in pain and respond with meaningful care and empathy.”
The statement also touched on the University’s ongoing antiracism work of the Aequitas Task Force.
“The aspiration of becoming an antiracist campus means that we commit ourselves to work for justice and equity for everyone.” Ke responds to the University’s support, “I hope that this is just the beginning of the Villanova community’s efforts to recognize the Asian American experience and that we will continue to uplift the Asian community even after the mural is erased.”
Tran is also encouraging students to continue to spread awareness. “Please, stay educated on these hate crimes, and spread the news, whether it be through social media or talking with your friends. While these small acts may seem trivial, waves cannot begin without a ripple.”