Xiaojie Tan was extremely proud of her daughter, a college graduate, says friend Greg Hynson
Xiaojie Tan, victim of Atlanta shooting at spa
Xiaojie Tan
| Credit: Kennesaw Police Department

A friend and longtime client of one of the eight victims of last week's horrific attacks on Atlanta-area spas recalled the 49-year-old business owner as a kind person who was a devoted mother.

Speaking to PEOPLE, Greg Hynson, 54, can't believe his friend Xiaojie Tan, who owned Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Ga., is gone, calling her "just the sweetest person you could imagine."

Hynson first met Tan five years ago through a mutual friend. A self-employed former competitive weight lifter, Hynson suffers from back and neck pain and would visit Tan's spa up to twice a week for treatment.

Hynson also knew victim Daoyou Feng, 44, telling PEOPLE she was a new employee at the spa.

Six of the eight people killed last week were Asian women. Authorities have said there's no evidence to suggest the suspected killer was motivated by racial bias, instead alleging he was motivated by guilt over a sex addiction. However, the motive remains under investigation, and the killings occurred amid a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The March 16 killings happened in three separate spas.

The first business targeted was Tan's. She and Feng were pronounced dead at the scene. Three others were transported to the hospital for their injuries and two of them died.

Later, three women were found dead from apparent gunshot wounds inside Gold Spa massage parlor in Atlanta. While police were at that scene, they received reports that shots were being fired at another massage parlor across the street.  Upon arrival, they found another woman shot and killed inside.

Investigators arrested Robert Aaron Long, 21, in connection with the killings. He is charged with eight counts of murder and one count of assault, and has yet to enter pleas to those charges.

Long's attorney, J. Daran Burns, issued a statement last week, offering condolences to the victims and their families. He says he is working "to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident," adding, "Everybody is doing their jobs, both law enforcement and the district attorney's office. Now, our firm will conduct a thorough investigation on our client's behalf."

Over the weekend, Hynson remembered the last time he saw his friend.

"It was the weekend" before the shootings, he says. "I was in the area, and I went over to say 'Hello.' Everybody was busy, and she popped her head out of her room and I said, 'I see you're busy — I'll come back later,' and that never happened."

He added: "If I had back pain, she would work on my back, and in between those times, because we were such close friends, I'd pop in to see how she was doing and we'd just talk. I still can't believe this is the reality and truth of it." 

Tan, who was killed a day before turning 50, surprised Hynson with a birthday cake on his last birthday.

"That was a perfect example of how special she was," he recalled. "She sent me a text and asked, 'What are you doing?' and I said, 'Nothing right now,' and she was like, 'Come on up,' and I went to the shop and she surprised me with a birthday cake and flowers. It had 'Happy Birthday Greg' on it with candles and she had flowers for me."

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

Hynson says Tan was a certified massage therapist who first opened her spa four years ago. Prior to that, she owned a successful nail salon in Marietta, which she eventually sold, he says.

He says she was also immensely proud of her daughter — a recent graduate from the University of Georgia.

Attacks on Asian Americans have been on the rise in recent months. A recent report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that anti-Asian hate crimes increased 150 percent in 2020 in America's 16 largest cities, despite overall hate crimes dropping 7 percent in those cities.

According to a recent Harris poll, 75 percent of Asian Americans are fearful of increased hate and discrimination toward them. 

If you've been attacked or have witnessed an attack, please contact your local authorities. You can also report your incident here. To learn more and to report crimes, go to: Asian Americans Advancing JusticeStop the AAPI HateNational Council of Asian Pacific AmericansAsian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, and Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council.