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Mass shooting at spa shocks Georgia Korean community

    Police are investigating a multiple shooting at the Su Jung Health Sauna in Norcross, Ga., Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, where a gunman opened fire Tuesday evening, killing five people in what authorities described as a murder-suicide. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

NORCROSS, Ga. >> A man gunned down along with his wife and other family members at an Atlanta area spa he co-owned was a prominent member of Atlanta’s community of roughly 100,000 Korean-Americans, according to friends left confused and concerned about what happened.

The rampage happened late Tuesday at the Su Jung Health Sauna when a gunman fatally shot two of his sisters and their husbands inside the business that is a gathering place for Korean-Americans in the affluent Atlanta suburb of Norcross. The gunman then killed himself.

Police didn’t immediately have a motive, but said they believe it could have involved a financial dispute or something about food.

And although they have yet to identify the victims, friends of the spa co-owner were mourning the loss of him and others.

“He had great people skills,” said Travis Kim, the president of the Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta. “He had a calm personality, so in various situations, he would give me a lot of ideas. When I was going through some rather difficult situations, he was there to give me advice and I’m grateful.”

And the carnage could have been worse. When the gunfire erupted, about 20 people were inside the stand-alone brick building decked out with white columns and white Greek-style statues. Spas in the area model themselves after traditional Korean bath houses, offering saunas, beauty treatments and cafes.

Hours before the shooting unfolded, police said the gunman was asked to leave the spa because he was being disruptive. Norcross police Capt. Brian Harr said the man returned around 8:30 p.m. and opened fire in the salon area near the front of the building. He said police were treating the shooting as a murder-suicide.

Investigators later recovered a .45-caliber gun they believed was used in the shooting at the spa at a busy intersection in the community northeast of Atlanta that’s lined with strip malls and small businesses, many catering to Korean and other immigrant communities who settled nearby.

Sonny Lee, who owns an auto center in the same shopping center, said the co-owner was known to argue with family members over money. He said the man lived in the area for about 15 years and made a name for himself in the community.

“He was a member of different societies that gave back,” he said. “It’s a shock. It’s a very close-knit community.”

Norcross was once one of the centers of the Korean community in Atlanta because it offered affordable housing and easy access to main highways. Much of the community has migrated farther north in recent years, but Lee and other stalwarts stayed in the area, catering to a clientele of mostly Korean and Hispanic customers. Some stores in the suburb feature signs in English, Korean and Spanish.

Korean organizations are reaching out to relatives of the survivors to help with funeral arrangements and also offering to help police with the investigation, Kim said.

“I’m trying to see that police conclude their investigation on this case as quickly as possible so that our community can go back to normal life,” he said.

“It’s a very quiet community, and everyone’s just focused on working hard and working together to make it better. It’s a very difficult situation to deal with, but it happened and we are trying to recover.”


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