Atlanta-area spa shootings: Suspect arrested after 8 people killed at 3 massage parlors; most victims were Asian

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Atlanta spa shootings: Suspect claims sex addiction as motive

The suspect says sex addiction drove him to commit drives, according to police. Eight people are reported to have been killed in the shootings.

Staff video, USA TODAY

ATLANTA — Eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, were killed Tuesday night in three shootings at Atlanta-area spas before police arrested a 21-year-old man suspected of being the lone gunman.

Police said the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, told authorities that his actions were not racially motivated and that he frequented some of the spas where the shootings took place. Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker said Long viewed the spas as “a temptation that he wanted to eliminate.”

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it was too soon in the investigation to say whether the shootings were a hate crime. “We are just not there as of yet,” Bryant said during a Wednesday morning news conference.

The killings came amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States. 

Here’s what we know:

Where did the shootings happen?

The first incident happened at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor in a strip mall off Highway 92 near a rural area in Acworth, about 30 miles north of Atlanta.

Police received a call around 5 p.m. about the shooting and found five people shot. Two were dead, and three were rushed to a nearby hospital, where two others died. The fifth person was injured but in stable condition Wednesday, Baker said.

Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said his office immediately released surveillance photos of the suspect and that Long’s family contacted the office believing their son was involved.

An hour later, two other shootings occurred across the street from each other in Atlanta on Piedmont Road, at the Gold Spa and the Aromatherapy Spa.

Atlanta police said in a statement that video footage placed the vehicle of the suspect in the Cherokee County shooting in the same area as the shootings in northeast Atlanta.

Authorities contacted the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office, anticipating where the suspect might be headed. Sheriff’s officials there along with the George State Patrol stopped Long around 8 p.m.

Who is the suspect, Robert Long?

Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, was taken into custody in Crisp County on Tuesday night, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, Baker said. 

Wednesday morning, Long was extradited into Cherokee County sheriff’s custody, Haley Little, a Crisp County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told USA TODAY. 

Baker said a 9mm firearm was recovered from Long’s car. 

During an interview with Atlanta police, Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies and FBI officials, Long said his actions were not racially motivated, according to Reynolds.

“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Baker said.

Baker said that Long believed there was “some type of porn industry” in Florida that he intended to confront and that he was on his way to the state when he was apprehended.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, however, that the Atlanta spas were not on police’s radar. “As far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally operating businesses,” she said.

Who were the victims?

In Cherokee County, the victims were Delaina Ashley Yuan, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and  Daoyou Feng, 44. A 30-year-old Hispanic man was injured. 

All four victims of the Atlanta shootings were Asian women, police said.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that its diplomats in Atlanta confirmed four of the women were of Korean descent.

How have attacks against Asian Americans risen during COVID-19?

Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen said the shootings appear to be at the “intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia.”

Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks incidents of discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said found nearly 3,800 incidents of hate, discrimination or attacks on Asian Americans from March 2020 through February 2021. The group has said Asian Americans have been blamed for the pandemic and connected the attacks to racist rhetoric from politicians, including former President Donald Trump.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans during COVID: Attacks on Asian Americans highlight rise in hate incidents amid COVID-19

The group tracked 48 incidents in Georgia during the same time period.

“The reported shootings of multiple Asian American women today in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the Asian American community, which has been reeling from high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year,” the group said in a statement late Tuesday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the “horrific shootings” and administration officials have been in contact with the mayor’s office and the FBI.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in South Korea meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and addressed the killings Wednesday. “We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere,” he said.

“A crime against any community is a crime against us all,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said that this type of violence occurs to often in the U.S. Asked about the alleged shooter saying he was not drive be hate, Warnock replied, “Anybody who takes precious lives in that manner is driven by hate.”

Contributing: Jordan Culver and Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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