Mario González met Delaina Ashley Yaun on Facebook two years ago. They both lived north of Atlanta. González had moved there from Mexico about two decades before and had been thinking of returning. Since coming to the U.S., both his parents had died back home. Getting by as a gardener and landscaper seemed increasingly untenable. He was thirty-seven; Yaun was thirty-one. “I used to think I was going to end up alone,” he told me recently, in Spanish. “I had never had a serious girlfriend before her. It was different with her.” On their first date, they went ice-skating with Yaun’s twelve-year-old son. “It was beautiful,” González said. “We talked. We kept talking. She spoke with the truth.” They went out, he said, until she agreed to be his girlfriend.
A month later, Yaun asked González to live with her at the house that she shared with her mother, her son, and her niece. She was working at a nearby Waffle House. At home, she began cooking Mexican food. “One time we were at the store and she picked up a jar of Doña María Mole, and I asked her what she was doing with that,” González recalled. “She was, like, ‘I know how to cook. I know how to cook.’ ” He told me, “She would cook like a true Mexican. I have no idea how she learned to do that,” adding, “She didn’t speak Spanish well, but we understood each other.” They started talking about having kids.
Yaun worked the morning shift. Her alarm went off at 5 A.M., and González would go with her to the Waffle House, where he would stay until it was time to meet his ride, at a nearby QuikTrip. Yaun got pregnant, and they decided to get married after the baby, a daughter, was born. “She didn’t want to get married while pregnant and with her belly showing,” González told me. He was the happiest he’d ever been, he said, even as the bills started to pile up. “We didn’t earn enough,” he said. Yaun told him that she wanted to start working double shifts. “I told her it was too much work,” González said. “She never took days off.” Even though they had little money, González said, Yaun was always helping people out; she refused tips from friends and went out of her way to assist strangers whose cars had run out of gas on the side of the road, giving them a lift to the station and even offering to pay for their fuel. “She was always like that.” Jessie Rodriguez, an old friend of Yaun’s, remembered a day when the two women brought their children to Chuck E. Cheese. It was years ago, and Yaun didn’t have much money at the time. Still, she insisted on paying for everything for Rodriguez and her daughter. “She kept saying, ‘I’ve got this! I’ve got this!’ ” Rodriguez told me.
For the second anniversary of her first date with González, Yaun had an idea. “Mi amor,” he remembered her saying, “You work six days a week and I work six days a week. I feel tired. My back hurts. We need a massage.” González could only take off work when it was raining, so they picked a day when rain was in the forecast. On Tuesday, March 16th, Yaun finished her Waffle House shift at 2 P.M. “Let’s go!” she shouted when she got home, excited for their date, González said. He had never got a massage before. On the way to Young’s Asian Massage, in Acworth, Yaun explained that they could get massages separately or together. “Whatever you want,” he told her. “You’re the boss.” They each got a one-hour massage, in separate rooms. “It was about to end,” González told me, “when I heard three or four gunshots.”
Rita Barron works next door to Young’s Asian Massage, at Gabby’s Boutique. Like González, she’s from Mexico originally, and she knew him a little from the neighborhood. On March 16th, around 5 P.M., two customers were browsing at her store when a rack of jackets along the wall it shares with Young’s began to shake. “I didn’t think it was a gunshot,” Barron told me. “I thought, maybe, something was dropped. Something heavy.” Then she heard screaming and saw people running outside. “Three Asian ladies,” she said. “Something was wrong with them. They kept screaming.” Her husband went outside to try to talk to them. They spoke little English, but he made out the words “man” and “gun.” Barron called 911.
For the six years that she’s worked next door, Barron has watched a broad cross-section of Atlanta come in and out of Young’s Asian Massage. “Spanish, American, Black. All kinds of people,” she said. “Women, men.” Barron knew the owner, Xiaojie Tan, in passing. “She was nice,” Barron said. “A friendly person.” Tan, who had come to the U.S. from China, used to throw Fourth of July and Lunar New Year parties at the spa. Barron and her son had gotten massages at the parlor. Barron knew González as a customer and Yaun from eating at the Waffle House. “I talked to her last Monday about her daughter,” Barron told me, referring to the day before the killing. She remembered Yaun saying, “She’s growing up, and I’m happy—because I want another kid.”
González’s masseuse left the room when the shooting stopped, he told me, but he stayed inside. Then he heard a police officer telling him to come out with his hands on his head. Members of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office had arrived on the scene quickly. “I still didn’t come out, not until the police officer came into my room,” González said. Standing next door, Barron was shocked when she saw González in handcuffs.
One of the officers led González to a police car. Inside, González tried to stay calm, knowing that the police had no reason to detain him. But no one told him anything for hours. González recalled, “I asked one of the police officers, who looked Hispanic, ‘Primo, I need to know. My wife is inside. Is she dead or is she alive?’ ” He was ignored, he said, until someone asked for his name and address. After a few hours of sitting in the parking lot, he saw his sister-in-law. “She just paced around and knelt down on the ground,” he remembered. “I know her. I knew something bad had happened. I immediately thought that my wife was dead.”
He was alone in the car for another hour, and then an officer came back and removed the handcuffs, but told him to stay put. “Every time he came by, I would tell him that I wanted to know about my wife,” González said. “They ignored me.” He had been in the car for about four hours, he said, when an officer grabbed his shoulder, saying, “Your wife died.” González continued, “Do you think that’s fair? I was very angry. I think that they had already checked the cameras.” At 6:37 P.M., the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office had posted images on Facebook, taken from a surveillance camera, of the suspect in the parking lot. “They knew who the shooter was—so why did they have me in the car? I think it’s a matter of racism, because she”—his wife—“was white, an American.”
The next day, González gave an interview on camera to the Spanish-language news outlet Mundo Hispánico, describing some of what had happened and showing handcuff marks on his wrists. The county’s Communications Director declined to comment, saying that the investigation into the shootings “is open and ongoing.”
Delaina Ashley Yaun’s funeral was held last Wednesday. Many people came, González said, but he didn’t want to talk about it. “That was it,” he said on Thursday. “Now all we have are problems. My daughter won’t stop saying, ‘Mama, Mama, Mama,’ right now.” He has two blood relatives in the U.S., he said, a niece and a nephew, who are nineteen and twenty, respectively. They’ve told him that they’ll help him out with the baby, he said, and give him rides when he needs them, since González does not have a driver’s license. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. Yaun had been planning to help him obtain a visa this year, he told me. Jessie Rodriguez, Yaun’s friend, is helping him with that now. She said that she had given him a ride the other day and that, on the way, his daughter was asking for her mom. He replied, “Yo soy tu mamá,” she said. “She gave everything for me,” González said of Yaun. “I am going to suffer. I am going to continue to suffer. It’s not going to be the same. I’m going to miss her.”
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