Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds bows his head after placing a bouquet of flowers outside Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Ga. Thursday March 18, 2021.
Caption
Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds bows his head after placing a bouquet of flowers outside Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Ga., on Thursday, March 18, 2021.
Credit: Ellen Eldridge / GPB News

Across the country, people are remembering the eight victims who died in a series of shootings at massage businesses this week in the Atlanta area. Six of those killed were women of Asian descent. Thursday night in Cherokee County — the site of the first shootings — the community held a vigil to honor those who died.

A growing number of signs and flowers blocked the front door of Young’s Asian Massage. The lights were switched off inside. But outside, Brittany Bengert began the vigil with a request.

“If you have candles — I know it's windy — please light them.”

A few dozen people were there — some holding candles, others clutching signs that said, “Disarm Hate.”

Four people were killed here on Tuesday. They were either patronizing or working at the business about 30 miles north of Atlanta.

“Let us show these families, our neighbors, that we are here for them," Bengert said. "We hold them in our hearts and remember the beautiful souls lost.”

The victims have been identified as Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels and the business owner, Xiaojie Tan.

outside Young's Asian Massage during vigil
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Brittany Bengert, center, chair of Cherokee County Democrats, speaks during the opening of a Thursday March 18, 2021, vigil for those lost in the recent spa shootings.
Credit: Ellen Eldridge / GPB News

The Cherokee County Democrats hosted the vigil. Bengert chairs the organization.

"Tonight is about the victims and their family, our neighbors, our friends — to uplift them and remember them," she said.

One of the women killed just got married in August. Yaun and her husband were getting a couples’ massage when the shooting occurred. It was their first time there.

The 33-year-old Acworth woman was a mother to an infant and a 13-year-old. She worked at a nearby Waffle House restaurant.

"These are my neighbors. These are my friends."

That’s where Jessica Lang met her.

"These are my neighbors. These are my friends," Lang said. "I go to nail salons. I go to tanning beds. I mean, I was actually thinking about getting a massage. So these are my family."

Lang listened as Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds spoke about the violence. He noted there had been just two homicides in the county in the last two years.

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He became emotional — as cameras clicked away.

“I just want to let our community to know, I want the world to know we're better than this," Reynolds said. "Our hearts go out to those people ... And I'm sorry for the tragic loss of life.”

Reynolds, whose department has been criticized for how it characterized the suspect and his actions that day, said hate crimes against the alleged gunman are still a possibility.

Allison Calhoun used to work across the road from the massage business. She is a member of Cherokee County Moms Demand Action — a non-partisan advocacy group that wants stricter gun laws.

"I hope that we can take a moment to reevaluate where we stand on our current gun reform legislation," Calhoun said. "(To) see what we can do to decrease gun violence not just in our own community, but across the United States."

The names of the other four people killed in Atlanta still have not been released. Authorities have had difficulty tracking down the victims’ families in South Korea and elsewhere, saying some people may not even know yet that their loved ones were killed.