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Cherokee County Community Holds Vigil To Honor Victims Of Atlanta Shooting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, shootings that killed eight people around Atlanta touched Americans all across the country. And on this day that the president visits Georgia, we're going to hear some of those voices. In a moment, NPR's Leila Fadel reports on the response of Asian Americans in Minnesota. We begin in Georgia's Cherokee County, site of the first shootings. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Ellen Eldridge attended a vigil for the dead.

ELLEN ELDRIDGE, BYLINE: A growing number of signs and flowers blocks the front door of Young's Asian Massage. The lights are switched off inside. But outside, Brittany Bengert began the vigil with a request.

BRITTANY BENGERT: If you have candles - I know it's windy - please light them.

ELDRIDGE: A few dozen people were there, some holding candles, others clutching signs that said, disarm hate. Four people were killed here on Tuesday. They were either patronizing or working at the business about 30 miles north of Atlanta.

BENGERT: Let us show these families, our neighbors, that we are here for them. We hold them in our hearts and remember the beautiful souls lost.

ELDRIDGE: The victims have been identified as Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels and the business owner, Xiaojie Tan. The Cherokee County Democrats hosted this vigil. Bengert chairs the organization.

BENGERT: Tonight is about the victims and their family, our neighbors, our friends - to uplift them and remember them.

ELDRIDGE: One of the women killed just got married in August. Yaun and her husband were getting a couple's massage when the shooting occurred. It was their first time there. The 33-year-old Acworth woman was a mother to an infant and a 13-year-old. She worked at a nearby Waffle House restaurant. That's where Jessica Lang met her.

JESSICA LANG: These are my neighbors. These are my friends. These - I go to nail salons. I go to tanning beds. I mean, I was actually thinking about getting a message. So these are my family.

ELDRIDGE: Lang listened as Cherokee Sheriff Frank Reynolds spoke about the violence. He noted there had been just two homicides in the county in the last two years. He became emotional as cameras clicked away.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK REYNOLDS: I just want our community know - I want the world to know, we're better than this. Our hearts go out to these people. And I'm sorry for the tragic loss of life.

ELDRIDGE: Reynolds, whose department had been criticized for how it characterized the suspect and his actions that day, says hate crimes against the alleged gunman are still a possibility. Allison Calhoun used to work across the road from the massage business. She is a member of Cherokee County Moms Demand Action, a nonpartisan advocacy group that wants stricter gun laws.

ALLISON CALHOUN: I hope that we can take a moment to reevaluate where we stand on our current gun reform legislation, see what we can do to decrease gun violence not just in our own community but across the United States.

ELDRIDGE: The names of the other four people killed in Atlanta still have not been released. Authorities have had difficulty tracking down the victims' families in South Korea and elsewhere, saying some people may not even know yet that their loved ones were killed. For NPR News, I'm Ellen Eldridge in Woodstock, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ellen Eldridge is a digital producer for GPB. She has previously worked as a breaking news reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The topics she most often writes about as a freelance reporter are mental health issues, crime and public safety. Ellen graduated Kennesaw State University magna cum laude in 2015 with a degree in communication focused on journalism.

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