Eight people were killed in a series of shootings that lasted nearly an hour at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area, raising concerns that the attack was another hate crime against Asian Americans.
Though several of the victims were women of Asian origin, police arrested a white 21-year-old Georgia man and said the motive for Tuesday night’s attacks was unknown.
Since the pandemic began, there has been a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, according to Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen. “It’s impossible to believe it’s not deliberately aimed at our community.”
Five people were shot at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor near Woodstock, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Atlanta, on Tuesday evening, according to Cherokee County Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Jay Baker. Two people died on the scene, and three others were taken to the hospital, where two of them died, according to Baker.
Around an hour later, officers responding to a robbery call discovered three women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, where tattoo parlors and strip clubs are just blocks away from mansions and skyscrapers in one of the city’s last undeveloped areas. Officers responded to a call of shots fired across the street at Aromatherapy Spa, where they discovered another woman who had been shot to death.
“They tend to be Asian,” said Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant.
President Joe Biden has been briefed on the “horrific shootings,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, and administration officials have been in touch with the mayor’s office and the FBI.
The suspect, Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, is a mystery, and police haven’t said what charges he faces.
Although the motive for the attack was still unknown, many Asian Americans saw the shootings as a personal attack, considering a recent wave of attacks that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States. The virus was discovered in China, and then-President Donald Trump and others used racially charged words to characterize it, such as “Chinese virus.”
Thousands of cases of violence against Asian Americans have been identified to an anti-hate group in the last year, and hate crimes in general are at their highest level in more than a decade.
In a tweet, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Atlanta said, “We are heartbroken by these acts of abuse.” “While the particulars of the shootings are still being sorted out, the wider context cannot be overlooked. The shootings occurred amid an uptick in violence against Asian Americans across the country, fuelled by white supremacy and institutional racism.”
The killings were condemned by police in Atlanta and other major cities, and some said they would beef up patrols in Asian American neighborhoods. “The violence in Atlanta was an act of hate,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said, and San Francisco police tweeted #StopAsianHate. The counterterrorism unit of the New York City Police Department said it was on high alert for similar attacks.
Other civil liberties organizations and well-known Americans have also expressed their displeasure. The Rev. Bernice King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, said she is “deeply saddened” that “we live in a nation and world pervaded by hate and violence.” I stand with our World House’s Asian members, who are part of our global human family.”
Authorities said surveillance footage showed a man driving up to the Cherokee County business about 10 minutes before the attack, and the same car was seen outside the Atlanta businesses. Long was apprehended in Crisp County, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Atlanta, after a manhunt was launched, according to Baker.
Atlanta police said in a statement that video evidence “suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody.”
According to a statement released by the South Korean Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, its diplomats in Atlanta verified with police that four of the victims were women of Korean descent. The ministry stated that its Consulate General in Atlanta is attempting to confirm the women’s nationality.
The FBI is supporting Atlanta and Cherokee County officials in the investigation, according to FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson. The shootings were briefed to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
In a video posted on Facebook, Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said his deputies and state troopers were notified Tuesday night that a murder suspect from north Georgia was heading their way. He said deputies and troopers stationed themselves along the interstate and “made contact with the suspect.”
According to Hancock, a state trooper used a PIT maneuver, or pursuit intervention technique, which caused the vehicle to spin out of control. Long was then taken into custody “without incident.”
Crisp County sheriff’s spokeswoman Haley Wade said Wednesday morning that Long, who is white, is no longer in their custody and that her office has turned over its information to the other Georgia agencies and the FBI. It was not clear where he was being held.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in South Korea meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, mentioned the killings during an opening statement.
“We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere,” he said.
“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday evening on Twitter.