Police: Ga. victims related in Korean spa shooting

February 22, 2012 - 7:45 PM
APTOPIX Georgia Spa Shooting

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. (AP) — A gunman walked into the Su Jung Health Sauna, argued with someone and then opened fire, killing two of his sisters and their husbands, then himself, authorities said Wednesday

And the carnage could have been worse — about 20 people were inside the bath house when the shooting started near the front of the stand-alone brick building decked out with white columns and white Greek-style statues. Four people were found dead inside, and another was taken to a hospital before being pronounced dead, police said.

Surveillance video from the nearby Norcross shopping center showed the man who Norcross police Capt. Brian Harr said had been asked earlier to leave the spa because he was being disruptive. Police were not called.

A few hours later, around 8:30 p.m., the man returned shooting, Harr said. Investigators believe the person who asked the gunman to leave was among the dead, Harr said. Investigators recovered a .45-caliber gun used in the shooting.

Su Jung is one of several day spas about 15 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, where there is a large Korean population. The spas bill themselves as modeled on traditional Korean bath houses, offering a mix of saunas, massage therapy, beauty treatments and cafes with predominantly Korean food.

Yellow police tape surrounded the large parking lot at a busy intersection in the suburb that's lined with strip malls and small businesses, many catering to Korean and other immigrant communities who settled nearby.

Harr said authorities turned to the Korean Consulate to help contact the victims' family members in Korea and were not going to release names until they were identified.

Investigators were trying to determine what led to the violence and heard various reasons for the dispute, including that it was spurred by a fight over money or food. Sonny Lee, who owns an auto center in the same shopping center, said the spa's owner, who had lived in the area about 15 years, often argued with family members over money.

"He was very involved 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 Atlanta's main highways. Much of the community has migrated further north, but Lee and other stalwarts stayed, catering to a clientele of mostly Korean and Hispanic customers. Some stores in the suburb feature signs in English, Korean and Spanish.

The spa's owner was a prominent member of Atlanta's roughly 100,000 Korean-American residents, said Travis Kim, the president of the Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta.

"He had great people skills," Kim said. "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."

Kim said his organization was reaching out to relatives of the survivors to help with funeral arrangements and also offering to help police with the investigation

"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."