Vigil honors anniversary of Atlanta shooting; lack of publication causes controversy

Griffin Perrault, Contributing Writer

Nearly 30 students gathered on a chilly and rain-menaced Science Quad to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings. University Chaplain, Kurt Nelson, led the small group in a short ceremony in memory of the shooting, referring to it as a “hate crime” and calling on the university community to continue honoring the lives of the victims. The ceremony featured the distribution of candles – the lighting of which was complicated by wind and rain – accompanied by a few minutes of silence.
“I (and our chaplains, and religious & spiritual life) are happy to help facilitate vigils, gatherings, and moments of reflection for most any member of the community who comes forward with a request to do so,” Kurt Nelson, Director of Religious & Spiritual Life at the University, said. “[W]e had such a request over spring break to take a moment to pause and remember and grieve that horrific hate crime and moment a year ago. Amidst 2 years of grief and loss, those murders stand out as a particularly grief and anger filled moment – especially for members of the APIDA community here.”
“To gather in solidarity and love and remember is a good measure of what it means to be in community,” Nelson said.
Just over one year ago on March 16, 2021 Woodstock resident Robert Aaron Long opened fire on three different businesses in the Atlanta metropolitan area – two spas and one massage parlor. In the process he claimed the lives of Paul Michels, Yong Ae Yue, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Yuan, and Suncha Kim. Six of these eight victims were Asian women; four murders were committed in two Atlanta spas and four in neighboring Cherokee County, at the establishment Young’s Asian Massage.
Upon his apprehension by police, Long confessed to the shootings and cited a supposed ‘sexual addiction’ as motivation for his shooting spree. He had received treatment for the issue at an Evangelical treatment clinic, explaining his attempts to suppress the predilections as contrary to his Christian beliefs. According to the Associated Press, Long “equated the businesses to sex,” despite the complete lack of evidence that any of the three establishments employed sex workers, “and that drove him to kill”.
Consequently, the shooting ignited a national conversation about the effects of anti-Asian racism, including a tendency to fetishize Asian women as objects of sexual desire and satisfaction. Long’s claims to avenge his sexual addiction through the victimization of Asian women at spa and massage parlors epitomized this trend, activists noted, by establishing an absurd nexus between their identity and employment and sexual temptation.
At the time of the shooting, numbers of Asian-American rights activists added that the massacre compounding existing violence against the Asian community in 2021, with a spike in hate crimes relating to the origination of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, China. Conspiracy theories alleged that China deliberately or accidentally leaked the virus from a laboratory in Wuhan, and a number of critics from both parties condemned China’s supposedly insufficient response in preventing the early spread of COVID-19. Hate groups placed broad-based blame for the spread of the virus on Asian and Asian-American residents, resulting in everything from derogatory remarks to assaults and even murders.
Shortly after the shooting, students Ruby Lee ’21 and Jasmine Minhas ’22 organized a vigil on the same Quad in 2021 “to stand in solidarity with the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community.” The event attracted an audience of over 200 people, who were offered lit candles in honor of the victims while organizers spoke about the incident. “We’ve been speaking, but have you been listening?” Lee said.
Though this year’s event was also well-attended, some members of the campus community were confused by the University’s lack of publicity surrounding the vigil. An email from the Diversity & Inclusion office advertising the vigil was not sent out to the campus community until March 24; the event itself had occurred the previous evening. A review of the email’s metadata indicates it was created on Tuesday, March 22nd at 11:31am, but was not delivered to student inboxes until 173,474 seconds – just over two days – after its creation. No information is available about when the message was scheduled to be sent. This was the first and only time the campus had received notice of the DE&I-sponsored event; attendees heard of it through word-of-mouth and shares of the poster through social media.
Holding posters admonishing readers to “call it a hate crime” and “protect Asian lives,” attendees of the vigil were read the names of the eight victims by BSG executive president Bernadette Maramis ‘24. Students then stood in what Nelson referred to as a “Quaker-meeting-style” formation, and observed a brief period of silence before adjourning.

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