“I have been shot! Please come! I need you!”

Those were the last words Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz said to his wife on the phone before he passed out steps away from Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Ga., on Tuesday night. Moments earlier, a gunman had opened fire, eventually killing eight people in three different spas in the Atlanta area.

Hernandez-Ortiz, a 30-year-old man from Guatemala who works as a mechanic and owns an auto repair shop, is now battling for his life after surviving the deadly attacks that have shocked the nation and raised alarms of a recent surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans.

The 21-year-old suspect, Robert Aaron Long, has been charged with eight counts of murder and homicide and one count of aggravated assault, police said Wednesday.

Eight people, including six Asian women, were fatally shot at three Atlanta-area spas on March 16. Police have arrested Robert Aaron Long as the suspect. (John Farrell/The Washington Post)

After hanging up the phone, Hernandez-Ortiz’s wife, Flor Gonzalez, 27, rushed to the scene with their 9-year-old daughter Yoseline from their nearby home. She saw her husband’s body lying on the floor, surrounded by police and ambulances.

“It was the most horrible thing,” Gonzalez said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Hernandez-Ortiz may have been heading to a shop next to the spa to send money to their parents in Guatemala, as they had talked about it the night before, when he ran into the attacker, Gonzalez said.

It wasn’t until midnight that she was able to finally see her husband of 10 years.

His face and eyes were covered in gauze, tubes coming out of his mouth, as Gonzalez held his hand.

She reminded him of what he always used to say, with pride: “That nothing and no one could make him fall apart or take him down,” a testament to his tenacious spirit, Gonzalez said.

“This is the time for you to prove that to me, this is the time for you to show me and get over this,” she recounted, crying.

“I know he was hearing what I was saying because he moved and because I told him his daughter was waiting for her dad at home and that her 10th birthday is coming up soon,” she said.

Doctors said Hernandez-Ortiz had been wounded in his forehead, throat, lungs and stomach, and remains in critical condition. There is at least one bullet inside his stomach, and at the moment it is too risky for doctors to remove, Gonzalez said.

But despite the severity of his wounds, doctors have told Gonzalez there are positive signs that he will recover. When doctors have asked him to squeeze their hand, he has responded.

“It will be a long journey ahead, but I thank God for giving him a chance,” Gonzalez said.

On Wednesday, doctors called Gonzalez and told her Hernandez-Ortiz’s condition is evolving positively. She will not be able to see him again for days, because of his heavily sedated state and coronavirus restrictions.

With many questions unanswered about the suspect’s motivations, Gonzalez said her family is devastated by the deaths of the other victims.

“I just can’t understand why anyone would do something like this,” she said, adding that she believed her husband was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like many others, Hernandez-Ortiz left Guatemala 10 years ago in search of a better life and a way out of poverty. Through years of hard work, he managed to open his own business.

“He came from nothing and has come a long way; that is why I have faith he will survive this,” Gonzalez said. “He is strong and optimistic, and that should help him get through this.”

Meanwhile, every time his daughter asks about him, she tells a white lie.

“I keep telling her he promised me he will be all right,” she said.