Man taken into custody after shootings at three locations, amid rising number of attacks on Asian Americans in the US
A series of shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area have left eight people dead, the majority of them women of Asian descent, leading to fears the killer had a racial motive.
A 21-year-old man, Robert Aaron Long, is a suspect in the shootings, and was taken into custody in south-west Georgia about 150 miles (240km) from the city after his car was intercepted by police after a manhunt.
The killings occurred amid a rising number of attacks on Asian Americans across the US since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Six of those killed were Asian while two were white.
“It appears that they may be Asian,” Atlanta’s police chief, Rodney Bryant, said, with South Korea’s foreign ministry adding in statement on Wednesday that its diplomats in Atlanta had confirmed from police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent.
The shootings – all believed to have been carried out by a single gunman – began at about 5pm, when five people were shot at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor in a strip mall near a rural area in Acworth, Cherokee County, about 30 miles (50km) north of Atlanta. According to the local county sheriff’s office spokesman, Jay Baker, two people died at the scene and three were transported to a hospital, where two of them also died.
The next shooting took place at 5.50pm when police in the Buckhead neighbourhood of Atlanta, responding to a call of a robbery, found three women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa.
While they were at that scene, they learned of a call reporting shots fired at another spa across the street, Aromatherapy Spa, and found a woman who appeared to have been shot dead inside.
The suspect’s car was caught on camera in the Acworth shooting, seen pulling up to the business at about 4.50pm, minutes before the attack. Baker said the suspect was taken into custody in Crisp County.
Police said video footage also showed the suspect’s vehicle in the area of the Atlanta spas at about the time of those attacks as well. That, as well as other video evidence, “suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody”, Atlanta police said in a statement.
The FBI spokesperson Kevin Rowson said the agency was assisting Atlanta and Cherokee County authorities in the investigation.
Long was arrested after state troopers performed a pursuit intervention technique, a move “which caused the vehicle to spin out of control”, Hancock said. Long was then taken into custody “without incident”.
“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, said on Tuesday evening on Twitter. “Once again we see that hate is deadly,” Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia tweeted.
The Stop AAPI Hate group issued a statement saying that many in the Asian American community had felt targeted over the past year.
“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,” it said.
“This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian American community continues to endure.”
On Tuesday evening, Long’s Facebook page appeared to have been removed from the site. A Facebook video, first reported by the Daily Beast, featuring Long at his local church, the Crabapple First Baptist church, had also been removed.
According to the Daily Beast, the 2018 video showed Long talking about his journey towards baptism. “As many of you may remember, when I was eight years old I thought I was becoming a Christian, and got baptized during that time. And I remember a lot of the reason for that is a lot of my friends in my Sunday school class were doing that,” Long is quoted as saying.
On Friday evening police released a booking photo of Long dressed in an anti-suicide smock.