This Thursday, June 24, will be 100 days since six Asian American women were shot and killed at three Atlanta-area spas, an attack many now say reignited the Asian American civil rights movement and sparked a national conversation about the daily violence encountered simply by being an Asian American or Pacific Islander.
Across Asian cultures, 100 days after the death of a relative marks a milestone in the mourning period.
MSNBC anchor Richard Lui visited Atlanta for NBC Asian America and NBC Nightly News Films and spoke with the families of the victims about what life has been like since the March 16 attacks. After weeks of memorials and protests, the areas around the spas have become eerily quiet, with dying flowers and old signs on the sidewalks reminding the community of what happened there just a few weeks ago.
“It’s hard every time I pull into the [apartment] complex,” said Bobby Peterson, the youngest son of Yong Ae Yue, 63. “Because the day that my mother was killed, I had to look for her. I had to find out whether it was her or not.”
Peterson said that he drove through the parking lot of his mother’s apartment building looking for her car, hoping that she was home.
“I remember pulling in and anticipating her car being here,” he said. “Hoping that she was asleep, hoping that she was here. And so every time I pull in, I remember her car wasn't there.”
That feeling of dread and anguish is familiar to the family of Soon Chung Park, 75, a mother of five, another of the victims.
In a conversation with her family, Park's oldest daughter couldn’t speak. The daughter's husband, Scott Lee, sitting next to her, spoke about the trauma the family has been through over the last few months.
“I saw the picture of my mother-in-law,” Lee said. “It was, like, before the makeup. And I saw the bullet holes in my mothers-in-law’s face. Actually, I saw everything. And then every night, when I sleep, I dreamed it.”
As he spoke, Lee held his wife as she cried softly.
For Randy Park, 22, the journey to heal from the loss of his mom is just beginning.
Hyung Jung Kim, 51, was a single mother of two, and he remembers how hard she worked during his childhood, often leaving her children with family friends who could better support them while she put in long hours at her job.
“She would be gone for, like, days, weeks or months at a time,” Park said. “My understanding is she just slept at the workplace.”
He said a part of him still hasn’t accepted that his mother is gone.
“If the reality of it hasn't already hit me, I don't know if it did, I don't know when it will,” he said. “My top priority right now is just to get things back to normal, as closely as it could.”
The shoes he wore to his mom’s funeral are still on the floor by his door, unmoved and with the dirt still on them. He said that if he could give his mother a final message, it would be: “You can just rest. Just chill out, relax. You don't have to work anymore.”
Peterson said he holds tightly to the memory of his mom — what she meant to him and what he knows he meant to her.
“I was going through and cleaning up her stuff. These are all my Mother's Day cards that I used to give her,” he said. “These are all the birthday cards that I would send her. She kept every single one.”
He, too, is only just taking his first steps out of the heartache.
“One day, I will get back to a point where I can look at her pictures again and smile,” he said.