In 2019, two women opened Hair World Salon in the Korean district of Dallas. Years ago, they had moved to the United States to give their children a life outside of the cutthroat South Korean education system and believed that hard work would guarantee a successful life in this new country. But shortly after opening the salon, the coronavirus hit, in effect shutting down and then dampening business for almost two years.
On May 11, as business was beginning to pick up for them, a gunman walked into the salon and fired about 13 rounds, according to Dallas Police: He wounded three women of Korean descent in front of four others before returning to his car and speeding away. The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, and law enforcement officials say two other recent shootings at Asian-run businesses in Dallas may have been connected.
The two co-owners of the salon, M.J., 50, and C.J., 44, were shot. They spoke to The Washington Post on the condition that only their initials be used because they were scared of further violence.
“The trauma, the memories, can never be erased from my life,” M.J. said. She added that she now lives in fear, pain and trauma — a word she repeated many times during an hour-long interview. “Gun violence has to end.”
The United States continues to grapple with a surge in discrimination and violence against Asians and Asian Americans, as well as the relentless reality of mass shootings. Last year, on March 16, 2021, a gunman stormed three spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight women, six of them of Asian descent. After the Dallas Hair World attack, 10 Black Americans were killed in a grocery store in Buffalo on May 14. The next day, six people were shot, one fatally, at a Taiwanese American church service in Orange County, Calif.
And on Tuesday, as M.J. was decrying gun violence in an interview with The Post, 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., about 350 miles from Dallas.
For M.J., the constant threat of shootings has shattered the dream she had of America when she emigrated in 2006. While she’s grateful for the education her two children have received in the United States, she said she has a lot of regrets.
“Frankly, I never dreamed I would get shot,” M.J. said. “In America, people’s memories fade about gun violence and its victims. But for us, it impacts our future.”
M.J. said that she was about to dry her client’s hair when she saw the gunman walk toward her salon. She ran to the door to shut it, but without saying a word, he fired immediately, she said.
As she put it: “It unfolded like a movie. The mental stress is very hard to bear.”
She was shot in her right forearm. She has had one surgery so far and will need another; doctors have told her she will probably need a year of physical therapy to recover. Until then, she doesn’t know how she will make money and pay the rent on the salon, among other costs, if she cannot use her arms to work.
“We raised kids; this is the age where we prepare for our futures,” she said. “I don’t know what that will be for us. I hope we can recover to normal, where we work hard and do our best.”
M.J. hasn’t told any of her relatives in Korea about the shooting, she said, including her mother, who is not in good health: “I’m afraid if my mother found out I was shot, it will kill her and send her to an early grave,” she said.
The shooting has been covered in Korean media, M.J. added: “My relatives called to ask if it was me, but I denied it.”
The salon’s co-owner, C.J., was shot in her feet: One bullet entered her right foot, then punctured her left before exiting, she said. As a hairstylist who stands all day, she does not know how she’ll be able to work again.
In the meantime, the salon, which has gained attention as a crime scene, is temporarily closed.
On May 17, Dallas Police charged Jeremy Smith, 36, with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Police Chief Eddie Garcia said Smith was involved in a car crash with an Asian man several years ago, which he blames for “panic attacks and delusions when he is around anyone of Asian descent,” The Post reported.
For M.J., hearing that the alleged shooter claimed to be a victim who was traumatized by Asians is hard to bear. “There is no reason we have to accept that,” she said, adding that she believes an increased police presence would help make the city safer and that harsher penalties for shooters would be a deterrent.
The weeks that followed have also been painful for 40-year-old aesthetician H.K., who was performing a facial on a customer in an inner room and avoided being struck when she heard the shots. It was her very first day of work at Hair World. She also spoke on the condition that only her initials be used because she feared further violence.
“I still dream about [the shooting] — middle of the night, [I’m] waking up crying,” H.K. said. Bullets lodged into the wall of the room where she worked.
Because the salon is closed, she has taken another job; her rent is high, she said, and she has a son to support. She works in a Korean restaurant in a nearby strip mall.
The other gunshot victim did not want to be interviewed or named. But her son, John Park, a doctor in New York City, said he continues to worry about her. She was getting a perm when the shooter entered, Park said. She was struck in her upper gluteal area before the bullet exited, fracturing her sacral bones but missing the end of her spinal cord.
“She dodged complete paralysis by one centimeter,” the 34-year-old internist said. As soon as his mother was shot, she called him. As he sat in a Manhattan Starbucks where he had been studying for his medical board exams, he recalled all of the trauma rotations he had completed.
“I thought it was the last time I’d talk to her,” Park said. “Every single gunshot patient I saw as a resident died.”
After rushing to Dallas that night, he and his wife met his mother at the hospital the next morning, where they washed the chemicals for her perm out of her hair; they’d been burning her scalp for hours.
“She lost 60 percent of her blood. She almost died. She was in shock,” Park said.
His mother was lucky to have health insurance, he added. Shortly after the shooting, Park started a GoFundMe campaign to help the other two women. Still, he’s more concerned about the mental health of his mother and the other victims, a topic that is not always prioritized in the Korean immigrant community.
The memory of the shooter storming into the salon haunts her, Park said; she has difficulty sleeping. Park used to call her once a month, and she would always answer right away, happy to hear from him. Now he calls multiple times a day to check up on her, mostly because she often doesn’t pick up, he said. When she does, she tells him she’s depressed.
On Tuesday, he called home to speak to his mother and mentioned the shooting in Uvalde. His father yelled at him for bringing it up, Park said. His mother told him she cried for 20 or 30 minutes when she heard the news.
“It really ruins families,” Park said. “Hate crimes destroy not only the one hurt, but the people around them. They should not be condoned or forgotten.”