Suspect charged with murder after eight people were killed in Atlanta-area shootings
Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old suspect in shootings at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, according to a news release from the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office.
Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old suspect in shootings at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, according to a news release from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities said Long confessed to the shootings during his interview with authorities. He was transported to the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center on Wednesday morning.
The victims of Tuesday’s shootings include six Asian women, prompting widespread concern that the killings could be the latest in a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday identified four victims who were killed: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth, Ga.; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44. A fifth victim suffered injuries that are not life-threatening, police said.
Police said the lone suspect told investigators that he has a “sexual addiction” and that the spas were “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Authorities added that it was too early to be certain that the slayings were not racially motivated.
Police arrested Long after a brief manhunt and said they interviewed him Tuesday night with the assistance of the FBI.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it is unclear whether the shootings could be classified as a hate crime.
“I think it’s important we acknowledge the fact if this is hate crime,” Bryant said at a news conference. “We are still early in this investigation, so we can’t make a determination. We are very early.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Asian Americans reported nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents in all 50 states, according to a report released Tuesday by Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that advocates for Asian and Pacific islander Americans.
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he was “very concerned” about the shootings, noting the sharp uptick in violence in the United States targeting people of Asian descent.
Biden said he had been briefed on Tuesday’s violence and that the investigation remains ongoing.
“I’m very concerned, because as you know, I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple months, and I think it is very, very troubling,” Biden said. “I am making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer. I’m waiting for an answer as the investigation proceeds from the FBI and from the Justice Department.”
“I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed,” he added.
Vice President Kamala Harris called the shootings “tragic” and expressed condolences to the families of the eight people killed, including six Asian women.
“We grieve for the loss,” said Harris, who is of Asian descent. “It speaks to a larger issue, which is violence in our country and to never tolerate it.”
While saying the motive of the shooter is not clear, Harris, a former prosecutor, noted that most of the victims were Asian and said no “form of hate” should be tolerated.
Among the victims killed in Atlanta were four women of Korean ethnicity, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. South Korea’s Consulate General in Atlanta dispatched a consul to the site, according to a Ministry statement.
Local advocates said they were stunned by the shootings and called for quick action.
“We are shaken by the violence in our city that has left 8 people dead, including members of the Asian American community,” said Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta in a statement. “We are gathering information about what happened and what the needs of those directly impacted are. Now is the time to hold the victims and their families in our hearts and with light.”
Georgia Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat who represents a swath of North Fulton and Gwinnett counties, said that she was “shocked and saddened” when she first saw news of Tuesday night’s shootings, but also that she was “not surprised.”
“Obviously the events are still unfolding, and we’re still getting more information. So I don’t want to jump to any conclusions as to the motivations behind this particular crime,” she said. “But just stepping back for a bit, I think that there is a picture in this country, especially over the past year, of increasing discrimination and violence against our Asian American communities.”
She said that regardless of what authorities determine to be the motive for Tuesday’s shootings, “it is taking place in a landscape where Asian Americans are increasingly terrified and fearful for their lives and their safety because of these escalating threats against our people.”
Earlier Wednesday, Baker said Long indicated that the spas were “a temptation” for him. “It’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Baker told reporters. “It’s still early on, but those were comments that he made.”
“He made indicators that he has some issues, potentially sexual addiction, and may have frequented some of these places in the past, Baker said. “We still have a lot of things to process.”
The killings began just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, authorities said, when surveillance video showed a man in a navy and red hoodie walking into Young’s Asian Massage, a spa on a busy commercial strip about 40 miles north of downtown Atlanta.
Four victims were shot inside the spa along Highway 92, Baker said; two died at the scene, and two later died in a hospital. A fifth man, who was coming out of a nearby business, was wounded, the man’s niece told WSB-TV.
Those fatally shot were two Asian women, a White woman and a White man. A Hispanic man was taken to the hospital with injuries, Baker said.
Video showed the shooter jumping into a black Hyundai Tucson and speeding away, police said. Less than an hour later, at about 5:47 p.m., a gunman killed three women inside Gold Massage Spa, about 27 miles south of the first shooting, said Sgt. John Chafee of the Atlanta Police Department.
Police responded to a call of a “robbery in progress” at Gold Massage Spa and were still on the scene when shots were fired across the street inside Aromatherapy Spa, according to Chafee. Officers found one woman inside that business who was also fatally shot.
With the help of surveillance footage, police said they soon identified Long, who lives in Woodstock, Ga., as the suspect. Police posted photos of the Hyundai Tucson and Long and launched a massive search. In Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, the sheriff’s office said it heard at about 8 p.m. that a homicide suspect was headed its way.
About a half-hour later, state patrol troopers and Crisp County deputies saw a 2007 black Hyundai Tucson on the highway, and a trooper performed a tactical maneuver that caused the car to “spin out of control,” Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said.
Long was taken to jail “without incident,” Hancock said, and his office forwarded its information to the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. After Long was taken into custody, police said they recovered a 9mm firearm.
Researchers have found that mass killers and shooters are usually male, typically target places known to them and are often fueled by grievances. These grievances can involve attackers blaming others for their issues or otherwise perceiving some wrong, researchers have found.
An FBI study in 2018 looking at shooters found that most of those examined had a grievance that “may not have been reasonable or even grounded in reality, but it appeared to serve as the rationale for the eventual attack, giving a sense of purpose to the shooter.” Mass attackers also typically unnerve people around them beforehand, alarming at least someone in their lives before the outburst of violence, researchers have found.
In some recent high-profile cases, attackers or people charged in mass killings have been explicit about their intentions and sentiments, including during and after mass killings in Pittsburgh, El Paso, Texas, and Charleston, S.C.
The suspected attacker in Pittsburgh allegedly said he wanted to “kill Jews” while rampaging inside a synagogue. Police said the man charged with killing people at an El Paso Walmart told them that he was targeting “Mexicans” that day. And the man who massacred Black parishioners inside a Charleston church detailed his racist motivations at length.
All of those massacres led to hate-crime charges.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, on Wednesday condemned the shootings in her area.
“A motive is still not clear, but a crime against any community is a crime against us all,” Bottoms said in a statement.
Bottoms praised law enforcement for apprehending Long. She said she is working with the White House and the Atlanta Police Department as they “investigate the suspect who is responsible for this senseless violence in our city.”
“My prayers are with the families and friends of the victims whose lives were cut short by these shootings,” Bottoms said.
The Washington Post’s Jaclyn Peiser, Teo Armus, Tim Elfrink and John Wagner contributed to this report.