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A 21-year-old Georgia man suspected in the shooting deaths of eight people at three separate massage parlors in the Atlanta area was captured and taken into custody Tuesday night. Six of the eight people killed were Asian women, sparking fears that this killing spree is the latest and most violent example of the surge in hate crimes against Asian-Americans across the country.
In less than an hour on Tuesday evening, at least nine people were shot at three different businesses outside of Atlanta. Eight of the victims have died, seven of whom were women.
The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, Georgia, was taken into custody by the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office, roughly 150 miles south of Atlanta. Atlanta Police said early Wednesday that, based on video footage placing Long’s car in the vicinity of the Atlanta massage parlors, it was “extremely likely” that the shooter was the same in all cases.
Officials said at a Wednesday press conference that Long said he was addicted to sex and that his victims may have been “targets of opportunity,” but denied his attacks were racially motivated.
What happened in Georgia
Long allegedly bought the 9mm gun used in the shootings just hours before the shooting, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call around 5 p.m. at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor in Acworth, according to CNN. Upon arriving at the scene, police found two people dead and three more injured. Two of the people injured later died at the hospital, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office told CNN. Two of the people killed were Asian women, one was a white woman, and one was a white man, Capt. Jay Baker from the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office told the AJC.
Those killed include 33-year-old Ashley Yaun, 44-year-old Daoyou Feng, 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan, and 54-year-old Paul Andre Michels, according to the AJC.
At around 5:47 p.m, Atlanta police responded to reports of a “business robbery” at Gold Spa on Piedmont Road in Northeast Atlanta, where they found three women dead, the Atlanta Police Department said in a press release. While still on the scene of the second shooting, police received reports of a third shooting at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street. There, they found one more woman who had been shot and killed, police said.
Robert Aaron Long, the suspected shooter, was “taken into custody without incident” in Crisp County at around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said at a news conference. Hancock said investigators from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI were heading to the area.
The South Korean Consulate in Atlanta confirmed that four of the victims were of Korean descent, though their nationalities are not yet known, the New York Times reported.
What we know about the suspected shooter
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday evening released several still photos of the suspected shooter from surveillance footage, showing a man in glasses and a long-sleeved shirt getting into a Hyundai vehicle in a parking lot off Highway 92 near Bells Ferry Road in Acworth.
Long was captured by authorities around 8:30 after an officer used a PIT maneuver to stop his car, according to the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office, which was involved in his apprehension.
“A GSP Trooper performed a PIT maneuver around the 93-mile marker. The suspect was arrested without incident and transported to the Crisp County Detention Center,” the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook late Tuesday night.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a press conference Wednesday that police believe Long was on his way to Florida, potentially to continue the spree he allegedly began Tuesday. “This could have been significantly worse,” Bottoms said.
A mugshot of Long has been released by the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office showing him wearing what appears to be a velcro green vest and looking straight into the camera.
An Instagram account that appeared to belong to Long had a tagline that read “Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life,” according to The Daily Beast. An Instagram account that appeared to belong to Long’s father had been disabled as of Wednesday morning.
The Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, where Long was reportedly a member, has disabled its website and Facebook page.
Violence against Asian-Americans is skyrocketing
Investigators so far have not cited a motive in the Tuesday killings. Given the targets of the shootings and the fact that the majority of the victims were Asian women, however, initial fears are that the murders were related to the increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hate crime reporting network Stop AAPI Hate has tracked nearly 3,800 reports of “hate incidents” since last March, the group said in a Tuesday press release. Around two-thirds of the incidents reported were verbal assaults, but more than 11 percent were physical assaults. The group tracked 32 hate incidents in Georgia between March and October, according to a report released in December.
The Atlanta metro area is home to the seventh-largest population of Korean-Americans in the country as of 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
“We are shaken by the violence in our city that has left 8 people dead, including members of the Asian American community,” the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights group, said in a statement. “We are gathering info about what happened & the needs of directly impacted are. Now is the time to hold the victims & their families in our hearts & with light.”
“We’re horrified by the news coming out of GA at a time when we’re already seeing a spike in anti-Asian violence,” the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus wrote on Twitter. “Our hearts go out to the victims & their families. #StopAsianHate”
Georgia officials condemned the shootings Tuesday. “My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives,” Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock tweeted. “Once again we see that hate is deadly.”
“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a Tuesday tweet.
President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Wednesday morning that the president was aware of the shootings in Georgia, and that the White House was in touch with Atlanta officials and the FBI.
Other cities said they would increase police activity in response to the attack, to help stop potential hate crimes against Asian-Americans. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief of Police Adrian Diaz said in a joint statement that the city is “taking additional steps to protect our Asian American neighbors,” including “additional presence by police patrols,” while the New York Police Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau tweeted Wednesday that it “will be deploying assets to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution.”