ATLANTA—Half an hour before a gunman opened fire at Gold Spa in this city’s midtown neighborhood last Tuesday evening, Gwangho Lee, 38, was on his way to pick up an employee who had requested a ride home. The employee, whose name Lee declined to share, was a friend of Lee’s wife, 74-year-old Soon Chung Park, who worked as the day manager and cook at Gold and was murdered that day along with seven others, five of them also Asian women.
As Lee, who worked as a Lyft driver, crawled through rush hour traffic, he saw that he had a text from the employee. It was a stunning message: They were being robbed, she wrote, telling Lee to “send the police.” When she didn’t hear back immediately, she urged him to “do it faster.”
Then, several minutes later, the employee added that the intruder was firing “blank shots.”
“Phew,” Lee responded. He was relieved, he later recalled in an interview, by the thought that his wife and her coworkers weren’t in any real danger. His wife didn’t answer when he called her cellphone, but that was normal; every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., she was busy in the kitchen.
When Lee arrived at Gold, he found one police officer on the scene and the employee who had texted him standing by the entrance, apparently unharmed. “I’m okay,” she told him, “but I think your wife fainted.”
In an interview conducted with a Korean translator from the small apartment the couple shared in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta, Lee recalled that it was dark inside the building that evening. He took a few steps, turned onto a hallway, and there she was. With the help of a friend, who wished to remain anonymous because he is undocumented, Lee re-enacted the moment he knelt over his wife’s body, believing he might revive her.
He assumed that the blood around her mouth had been caused by falling to the ground. He wiped it away.
When he realized she wasn’t breathing, Lee tried to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he said, “but her tongue was very swollen.” Panicked, he turned to the police officer, who was “just standing there,” he added. Searching for the words in English, Lee pleaded for help. “I don’t know how to do CPR!” he recalled saying. “This is emergency! Where is the ambulance?”
The Atlanta Police Department declined to comment on Park specifically, citing an active investigation.
Lee was just beginning to reckon with the fact that his wife was dead, he said. He remained at her side as her body was taken away—another victim, police say, of a white 21-year-old from the suburbs named Robert Aaron Long, who authorities have charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.
Lee, who like his late wife was born in South Korea, said he met Park through a mutual friend in 2017. She was twice his age, but looked young for her years and, Lee thought, “very beautiful.” Whereas Lee was new to America and struggling to make his way, Sister Park, as friends called her, had long managed for herself. She had had her own business selling jewelry, had grown children from a previous marriage, and in Lee, friends say, she saw a young man in need of help.
“I think she thought, this poor guy, he’s so skinny, I have to take care of him,” Kimberly Faas, a neighbor and friend, told The Daily Beast.
At first, Park was like a mother to him, Lee said. With her help, Lee got his driver’s license, began working for Lyft, and found work painting houses with two of his friends. Worried they weren’t eating enough, Park would insist that they come to Gold, where she often cooked them lunch and dinner. “She was the strong one in the relationship,” said Faas. “The main breadwinner.”
On a snowy evening in 2017, they went on their first date, walking from their apartment complex on Pleasant Hill Rd. to Sing Sing Sushi.
One day, Park proposed.
“She asked me to marry,” Lee said, wiping away tears. “I wanted to earn money, so she doesn’t have to work anymore.”
But as a Lyft driver, Lee could only make so much. Park had to continue working, and as an older woman, her options were limited.
“Most places want to hire young ladies,” said Faas, who said she helped Park file an unemployment claim after the pandemic temporarily forced her to stop working at Gold. “So she took what she could get, and she worked very hard.”
His wife was happy working, but she also relished the one day a month she got off. It was the little time they had together, to go to the park or shopping at the outlet mall.
After she died, Lee said, Park’s coworkers reminisced about one of his wife’s happiest days. Lee had never been one for words of affection. But one afternoon, he called her during her shift. It was so unusual that she thought something must be wrong. “What happened?” Lee remembers her asking. “Oh nothing,” he said. “I just wanted to tell you I’m thinking of you.”
Lee learned, he said, that after he’d called, Park told everyone at Gold, “My husband is thinking of me.”
“I didn’t know how happy that made her,” he added. “I only wish I had said it more.”