How the Atlanta Spa Shootings—the Victims, the Survivors—Tell a Story of America

“I am not going to let that happen again,” Lyon told me when we met at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Sixes, 10 miles north of Young’s. His 9-mm goes everywhere with him now, even to bed.


On the other side of Atlanta, 16 miles due east, is Stone Mountain, then as now a Native American holy site. In 1945, Ku Klux Klan members climbed it to carve out a cross, stretching 300 feet across the mountain face. The men lit it on fire, a Pharos visible 60 miles away, according to historian Kevin M. Kruse, in White Flight.

Upon this sacred stone face, sculptor and KKK sympathizer Gutzon Borglum had begun exerting his will—a bas-relief of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson—but left before finishing, moving on to his opus, Mount Rushmore. Stone Mountain is “the largest shrine to white supremacy in the history of the world,” as Richard Rose of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has said. Stone Mountain is also among the most visited sites in the state. On any given weekend, families host cookouts, play mini golf, and line up blithely for leisure activities against the backdrop of the three horsemen.

How the Atlanta Spa Shootings—the Victims, the Survivors—Tell a Story of America


When Daoyou Feng was 14 or 15, or maybe 16—accounts vary—she left home, a village near Zhanjiang prefecture in China, and moved 260 miles east to Guangzhou city, near Hong Kong, where she found work at a toy factory. Feng’s family was desperately poor and relied on Feng and her older brother Daoqun, who left home when Feng was three or four to work at a rubber tree farm, where he made the equivalent of $5 a month. Another brother, Daoxian, whose foot was debilitated in a childhood injury, supported himself by farming. Her sister Mei, also sent away to find work in the city, had eloped with a factory worker. And so the weight of filial duty fell on the shoulders of young Feng.

After working at various factories in Guangzhou and Shenzen, Feng went to work in Shanghai. She told her family she gave facials. The year she turned 38, Feng returned to her village to find a husband. The search was unsuccessful. “They tried to introduce men to her,” Daoqun recalls. “But she wouldn’t even take a look. ‘This is not okay.’ ‘That is not okay.’ ”

Then an acquaintance in Shanghai helped Feng get a tourist visa to the United States. Daoqun mocked her. “You haven’t graduated from primary school. How can you go to the United States?”

In May 2016, Feng arrived in Los Angeles. A friend of a friend, an Uber driver who also worked in construction and whom Feng called di di, or “little brother,” picked her up. She was hired at a nail salon, a restaurant, and, within a few days, a massage parlor.

As soon as she could, Feng, now going by the name Coco, called home from an American telephone number. No one answered, believing it was a scam. Feng rarely shared details of her life in America with her family back home. Instead, the monthly phone calls centered on the various financial needs of the extended family. Every few weeks, Feng would wire 1,500 yuan (about $230) via WeChat, a free messaging app popular in China, to Daoqun, who would then send the money to their mother in the countryside. Over the years, Feng paid for her mother’s eye surgery; her nephew’s school fees; her sister-in-law’s business expenses; and the weddings and funerals of relatives and neighbors. Without being asked, Feng always sent extra money for such holidays as Lunar New Year and the Dragon Boat, Mid Autumn, and Hungry Ghost festivals. She also paid to renovate her parents’ house, as well as for the mortgage on her oldest brother’s house, which he shared with his wife, his son, and his son’s wife. In May 2020, Feng made a down payment on a four-bedroom apartment for her mother. At various times, Feng supported 10 members of her family.

On March 14 last year, around 10 or 11 p.m. ET, Feng called Daoqun to discuss Qingming Jie, an upcoming tomb-sweeping holiday honoring ancestors. Feng would send 1,000 yuan (about $150) so the family could purchase food for the event—two chickens, a goose, some rice, and bananas and apples for dessert—as well as ghost money made from incense paper for burning and customary firecrackers. Daoqun was at the barbershop getting a haircut, so the call was brief.