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Sons of Atlanta shooting victim struggle to get ahead

DULUTH, Georgia – It was already 1pm when Randy Park fell out of bed a miserable day in March. It had been another long night of TV and video games to distract from the void swirling through the townhouse where her mother had once cooked meals between shifts at a spa. He walked down the hall, passed his vacant room, and pushed his younger brother, Eric, to wake up.

It was high time to face another day on their own.

Immediately after the deadly Atlanta-area shooting, the faces of Randy and Eric Park, now 22 and 21, appeared to be everywhere, their alluring images linked to a GoFundMe page established after the murder of their mother, Hyun Jung. Grant. . They were overwhelmed by financial donations, care packages, reporters on their doorstep and so many calls that Eric’s cell phone froze.

But in the months that followed, on the cusp of adulthood, the Park brothers were largely left on their own to navigate the world.

Grief takes many forms after a mass shooting. Those who remain in the Atlanta area include Mario Gonzalez, whose new wife, Delaina Ashley Yaun, was a client of Young’s Asian Massage. They include the grandchildren of Suncha Kim, who immigrated from South Korea in 1980. And they include Randy and Eric Park, whose anguish is compounded by knowing that their single mother was killed while doing a job. that she did not like, a part of her life that they knew little about and it took her away from home for many hours.

“She died working for us,” Randy said. “It’s just unfair. She didn’t have much life to begin with already.

The way forward for Mrs. Grant’s sons is now murky, the questions that await them both mundane and profound. Will they come back to college or to work? What will they do with the money – nearly $ 3 million in total – that has poured in to support them? What will they do with the rest of their lives?

Before all of this, however, they are simply trying to learn to hold on through their grief, recreating familiar rituals, imperfectly, to comfort each other for long days.

The Park brothers live in a Korean enclave on the outskirts of Atlanta. Until recently, Randy worked full time at a nearby bakery and cafe. Eric was struggling to take distance education at Georgia Gwinnett College. The pandemic and the death of their mother put an end, at least temporarily, to these lawsuits.

Growing up, the brothers believed they knew how to fend for themselves because their mother was often at work. But the past few weeks have revealed all the ways Ms Grant has taken care of from afar: cleaning the house between shifts, cooking big meals that could last for days and calling every night from work to check in.

And without the guidance of their mother, who immigrated to the United States before the birth of her sons, their neighborhood may seem foreign. She was their link not only to the community but also to their Korean heritage.

Without it, even the most basic tasks can become overwhelming ordeals.

On a recent party, Randy researched a recipe for the type of kimchi stir-fry his mother once made for them and went looking for supplies: green onion and seaweed, red pepper powder and a can of oil. sesame. Shopping at Korean grocery store H Mart brought up fond memories. As a young boy, he hovered over live crabs, hitting them with pliers until his mother stopped him. They chose products together, discussing her love interests and future plans.

But the store where he had often accompanied her now looked like an intractable labyrinth. What aisles? Which brands? He tried to avoid eye contact with other buyers who recognized him from the reports.

Back home, he and Eric wonder about the recipe.

“Do we have a pan? Randy asked.

“Well, a frying pan is basically a frying pan,” Eric replied.

Randy looked inside a cabinet and pulled out a large pot: “Is that a frying pan?”

“No, it’s more of a wok.”

Was a teaspoon the same as a tablespoon? Why did all the onions go bad?

Randy mixed the red chili paste with sugar and, realizing he had miscalculated, sighed deeply. “I should have thought about it. “

They ate next to each other at the dinner table, staring at the third chair where their mother had once sat.

Truth be told, there was a lot about Hyun Jung Grant that his sons didn’t know.

She had told them that she was a teacher in South Korea and had briefly lived in the city of Busan before moving to Washington state, where she had found work as a waitress. She married and divorced, but the Park brothers never had a relationship with their father. Ms Grant and the boys moved to Atlanta over a decade ago to live among more Korean families, first in an apartment and more recently in a rented townhouse.

Along with other Korean immigrants, she worked at the Gold Spa in a strip of malls in northeast Atlanta. Giving massages was exhausting work that required long hours. Sometimes she would spend the night for several days in a row. She yearned for something more – a better job, a house she owned – and didn’t talk much about her job, preferring to tell some people that she worked in a makeup counter. But she had bills to pay and was determined to send her boys to college.

Many nights Randy and Eric had been home without her, waiting for her registration call.

How was your day? Did you eat? Is your younger brother at home?

Gold Spa, where Ms Grant worked, was one of three companies where workers and customers found themselves in the crosshairs on March 16; she was one of eight people killed. The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, told authorities he targeted the companies because he wanted to eliminate sexual “temptation”. An Atlanta prosecutor said Mr. Long had targeted some of the victims because they were of Asian descent, and said she planned to seek the death penalty against him.

When Randy was young, a babysitter told him to think of himself as Eric’s second “umma”, his surrogate mother. Now that’s a role he seriously fulfills.

After the shooting, he instinctively protected his younger brother from the burden of making the decision. Alone, he went from meeting to meeting, making his mother’s funeral arrangements with the funeral home, sorting out finances with a newly hired financial advisor. He ends up forcing himself to start his days early, filling his mornings with errands requested from the head of the family.

Even now, he takes care of meals and laundry, as well as the lingering logistics of their mother’s death. “I can’t just let it all go,” Randy said. “I have a responsibility.

Eric often stays in his room, falling asleep and falling asleep. Recently, he signed up for weekly driving lessons, but he often watches shows like “Crash Landing on You”, a popular South Korean drama, waiting for his friends to finish their lessons so he can play League of Legends on it. evening. Her room is littered with empty Starbucks takeout bags and smoothie cups.

The brothers weren’t close growing up, but their grief drew them together. Together, they last saw their mother’s face at the funeral home. Together, they flipped through her photo albums in preparation for her memorial. they discovered family photos their mother took and saved to her phone. They look for each other when they feel alone.

One evening in April, Randy invited Eric to join him and a few friends at Assa Tech Karaoke in Duluth, a rare night for singing and chatting. It was Eric’s first attempt at karaoke, an activity he had hoped to do with his mother.

Randy and his friends sang a decent rendition of “Location” by Khalid. And then, at Eric’s request, the brothers tried out one of the few songs they knew in their mother’s language. On either side of the room, they kept their eyes riveted on the lyrics on the screen, avoiding eye contact. Eric stumbled over a few words, Randy held a few notes too long, but by the chorus, they took the hit.

They sang in sync in Korean until the end. “Bogoshipda” – “I miss you.”

Slowly the brothers envision a future for themselves. Eric plans to return to college during the next school year. Randy plans to finish his final semesters at Georgia State University or maybe enroll in a computer boot camp. They imagine a trip to South Korea to meet their mother’s family.

Among the most difficult times of Hyun Jung Grant’s absence for the Park brothers is the long list of future trips and milestones they hoped to spend together.

This reality took root on Eric’s 21st birthday, which would also have been his mother’s 52nd birthday. For years, they had planned to share a drink when Eric was of age.

And so, on the morning of May 4th, Randy and Eric did their best to recreate the party their mom had in store for them. They bought a fruit cake from a nearby Korean bakery and searched the city for a bottle of chamisul soju, a Korean distilled spirit, before going to his grave.

It had been stormy for days, but as the brothers crossed the field the rain dispersed and only the clouds remained.

Randy led the way, having visited several times for funeral arrangements. They spilled the alcohol around their mother’s grave as an offering and ate their cake from paper plates.

They were silent for half an hour, not knowing what to say to each other. “You are hungry?” Randy asked. Eric nodded and they left.

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