Eight people were shot dead at three massage parlors in and around the southern U.S. city of Atlanta on Tuesday, with many of the victims women of Asian descent, according to multiple reports quoting law enforcement.
A 21-year-old man, identified as Robert Aaron Long, was taken into custody hours after a manhunt. Authorities have not disclosed a suspected motive and said it was unclear if the shootings were related, but the killings come amid a wave of hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
South Korea’s foreign affairs ministry confirmed that four of the dead were women of Korean descent.
The bloody attacks began around 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Young’s Asian Massage Parlor located in a strip mall near a rural area north of Atlanta.
According to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office, five people were shot. Two died at the scene and the remaining three were transported to a hospital where two died from severe injuries.
Not long after, several shooting deaths were reported at Gold Massage Spa and Aroma Therapy spa in Atlanta. The two businesses are across the street from each other.
“At this time, investigators are gathering information from both scenes to determine exactly what occurred and attempting to obtain confirmed information regarding the suspect or suspects,” a spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department said in a statement reported by the Washington Post.
While authorities said that no motives are being ruled out, a recent spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans fueled speculation that the shootings were racially motivated.
New data revealed that nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate crimes were reported over the past year, including slurs and physical attacks, a figure much greater than previously reported. The majority of attacks have also been directed at women.
“The reported shootings of Asian American women in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the community which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination,” said the forum Stop AAPI Hate on Twitter.
The group has been actively campaigning against Asian-American hate crimes and discrimination.
This is a developing news story and may be updated.
Additional reporting from Junhyup Kwon. Follow Heather Chen on Twitter.