Two shootings at two Asian-owned spas have occurred in just the past month in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The first incident, at Wonderful Massage, took place in January and resulted in the death of the owner, Sihui Fang.
The second shooting, at Canna Spa, occurred three weeks later and resulted in one death. A homicide investigation is ongoing, Gilbert Gallegos, director of communications at the Albuquerque Police Department, told NBC News, and police have yet to release any additional details. The identity of the victim has not been released; it is only known that she is a woman of Chinese descent.
Gallegos declined to speak about possible motives. But the two shootings are not believed to be committed by the same people, since the suspects in the first shooting were in custody at the time of the second, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina previously told the local NBC affiliate KOB4, adding that the Asian American community could be at risk.
“It’s possible that people are preying upon a certain group,” he said.
Law enforcement officials previously arrested Jorge Rivera-Ramirez and Juan Carlos Hernandez, both 18, in connection with the shooting at Wonderful Massage. Police said the pair tried to rob the business and exchanged several rounds of fire with Fang, who died at the scene. Rivera-Ramirez called 911 for medical assistance for his own gunshot wounds, and Hernandez fled before authorities arrived, according to police.
Detectives later discovered that Rivera-Ramirez and Hernandez both shot at Fang, killing her. They have been charged with murder, kidnapping, armed robbery with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and conspiracy.
Fang’s partner, Rod Honstein, told KOB4 that the couple had feared a violent incident would occur at the spa. There was an attempted rape at the business about a year ago, and there had also been a rise in robberies in the area’s spas.
“We took steps to prepare, just in case something were to happen,” he told the outlet. “We had a gun in the shop.”
Asian Americans in Albuquerque have been on high alert after the shooting at Wonderful Massage, said Kristelle Siarza, the volunteer executive director of the Asian Business Collective, a local organization. After the second attack, however, the “tone shifted to terrified.”
“Operating a business should have never led to the loss of life,” she said.
Medina told the CBS/Fox local affiliate KRQE last week that Asian-owned businesses, including the spas, could have been targeted due to the common belief that they have large sums of cash on-site.
Siarza, whose organization has offered mental health and other services to the area’s Asian American spas amid the attacks, said that people could also be targeting the Asian American community due to the idea that they won’t speak out about attacks against them.
“There is a stereotype here for sure that the Asian community is submissive, it’s quiet, it’s hard working, it’s vulnerable,” she said. “I think that’s what led to a lot of these crimes that had happened first. Small, petty crimes, and then it escalated to the point of theft and death.”
There are also major barriers for vulnerable communities to report crimes. Siarza said there’s a sizable Vietnamese refugee population in Albuquerque, and many of them may not feel comfortable speaking out to law enforcement due to the trauma that they’ve endured. Other Asian Americans may not have the language skills or the resources to reach out for help, or don’t do so out of fears about their immigration status or business licenses, she said.
In a video shared on Facebook, Medina said that these factors would not play a role in the investigations. A city ordinance prohibits law enforcement officials from inquiring about these issues.
“We want to make sure that the Asian community knows that it is safe to report crime to the Albuquerque police department and that we don’t look into factors such as your immigration status or the fact that you have a business license,” he said. “It’s important that the Asian community knows that we’re here to help them during times of violent crime, and we want to encourage them to report crime.”
Siarza said that the younger generations of Asian Americans in the area have, however, become increasingly vocal about the attacks in the area. Many feel that they have “nothing to lose at this point” and must advocate for their elders, she said.
“The reason why they’re here in America is that American dream of finding a better life and gaining income to support their families overseas, as well as their families here in America,” she said. “We should be paying attention to profit and loss and what good we’re doing in the community, not just feeling depressed and terrified of whether or not I can open my business.”