Norcross Police Chief Warren Summers, right, and Capt. Brian Harr exit Su Jung Health Sauna following a murder-suicide in February.
Norcross Spa Shooting
Photos from the scene of a shooting at Su Jung Health Sauna in Norcross.
NORCROSS — Police say the gunman in a shooting rampage at a popular Norcross spa killed two of his sisters and their husbands before turning the gun on himself, leaving the highest body count at a Gwinnett crime scene in years.
Among the victims was a leader of metro Atlanta’s Korean community who championed under-privileged families and who’d fought beside U.S. troops for South Korea in Vietnam, a friend and associate said. The shooter, conversely, was described by one family friend as a loose cannon.
Norcross police did not identify the shooter or any of the victims Wednesday, but Chief Warren Summers called the case a clear murder-suicide triggered by a dispute, possibly involving money.
Investigators were sifting through “varied” information as to the motive, Summers said. All four victims were owners of the massive spa, which houses an eatery and salon.
Norcross police responded about 8:40 p.m. Tuesday to a report of a person shot at the Su Jung Health Sauna, a stand-alone building fronted by white statues at 6005 Buford Highway. Investigators believe about 20 people were inside when the barrage of gunfire began, but most customers were toward the back of the 50,000-square-foot building and only heard the gunfire.
Investigators believe the perpetrator had been asked to leave the spa by people he knew earlier Tuesday, then returned after nightfall with a .45-caliber handgun.
Summers said the gunman confronted the victims in a salon near the front of the building and opened fire. All died in that area, except for a man who scampered away and was rushed to Gwinnett Medical Center before he died. Ages for those involved ranged from early 50s to mid-60s, the chief said.
Travis Kim, president of the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta, said the dead included his personal friend Byong Kang, who was about 65 years old, he said.
Kang had served as chairman of the advisory council for the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia, and was a board member for the association’s Korean Family Center, which assists families in need.
“(Kang) had a very deep experience here,” Kim said. “I feel like I lost a great friend and a great ambassador of the community.”
Summers said his officers recognized the gunman from past encounters, though he didn’t know the nature of those meetings. Kim said the gunman had become violent with his family members in the past and was “aggressive” by nature.
Surveillance video shows a man walking into the spa and getting into an argument with one of the victims, then opening fire, police said.
Hak Kyu Kim belonged to the same veterans’ association as Kang. He called the victim a kind soul who had emigrated to the United States in the early 1980s and made it a priority to help others.
“He was a very giving person, very involved in the community,” said Kim, via a translator.
Kim, the Korean association president, said the spa had been a hit for personal pampering since its opening in 1998 but, like many small businesses during the recession, had recently endured a downturn in business. Kang and other owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize, he said.
A Gwinnett judge ordered Kang in July to pay Bank of America $4,000 after Kang had breached a credit-card limit and left an outstanding balance, according to civil fillings in Gwinnett Magistrate Court.
Given the crime scene’s magnitude, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation sent two crime scene specialists and another agent to assist in the probe. GBI spokesman John Bankhead said investigators were using 3-D technology designed for architecture and construction jobs to recreate the crime scene.
Tuesday’s events pushed the murder count within Norcross city limits to five in February alone. The alleged robbery-motivated killing of 15-year-old Nick Jackson on Feb. 4 was the first homicide in Norcross in more than two years.
Chuck Warbington, Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District executive director, said the spate of violence is not indicative of the area’s overall crime trends. Norcross makes up 1/4 of the district Warbington oversees.
Overall crime is down for the sixth consecutive year, with double-digit drops until 2010, when crime dropped about 6 percent, Warbington said.
The killings mark the highest single victim count since Richard Ringold allegedly killed four people at his Lawrenceville home in another domestic rampage in 2009. Ringold faces the death penalty in that case.
Travis Kim stressed the randomness of the killings in hopes the shooter’s actions would not reflect poorly on the 100,000-strong Korean community in metro Atlanta. He said everyone involed was a legalized United States citizen.
“Most of the Koreans are living a quiet life and working hard,” Kim said. “This is some oddball instance.”