Atlanta police say hate crime charges still possible for spa killings: 'Our investigation is looking at everything'

Christopher Wilson
·Senior Writer
·3-min read

The Atlanta Police Department confirmed a few new details in the murder of eight people Tuesday evening while distancing itself from controversial comments by Cherokee County law enforcement officials.

Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. held a Thursday afternoon press conference in which he confirmed that alleged shooter Robert Aaron Long had frequented the spas where he fatally shot eight people, six of them Asian women. Hampton also confirmed that the 21-year-old had purchased his gun the same day of the shooting.

Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. makes remarks during a news conference at Atlanta Police headquarters, after the fatal shooting at three Georgia spas, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., March 18, 2021. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)
Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. at a news conference on Thursday. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

Hampton said that the case was still not being categorized as a hate crime but that the possibility was open as the investigation continued. The killings came amid an increased focus on violence against Asian American communities, and the FBI is involved in the case.

"Our investigation is looking at everything, so nothing is off the table," Hampton said.

The deputy chief added that the department had not yet released the names of the four women who were killed at two locations in northeast Atlanta because it is working to make sure their families were properly notified first. The other four fatalities were identified as Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Yan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

Long was taken into custody Tuesday evening and charged with murder and assault the following afternoon. An arraignment scheduled for Thursday was postponed.

Notably absent from the press briefing were law enforcement officials from Cherokee County, where the first four victims were killed. At a briefing Wednesday that included Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Police Chief Rodney Bryant, Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department made multiple controversial statements, including repeating Long’s assertion that his crime was not racially motivated.

"He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did," Baker said, adding that the businesses were seen by Long as "a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate."

On Thursday, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds issued a statement regarding the comments, saying that "they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect."

Aramotherapy Spa, one of three locations where deadly shootings happened yesterday at three day spas, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 17, 2021. (Chris Aluka Berry for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Aramotherapy Spa, one of the three locations of a spree of deadly shootings in the Atlanta area on Tuesday. (Chris Aluka Berry for Washington Post via Getty Images)

Reynolds did not mention the reports Wednesday from multiple outlets that Baker had posted T-shirts with anti-China sentiments to his Facebook account last year. After BuzzFeed News contacted Baker about the shirts, the post became unavailable.

"I'm only going to comment about our investigation," Hampton said at Thursday’s briefing, "and again, we're not prepared to talk a lot about what has been said, because we're not trying to try the case in public."

Hampton noted in his opening statement that the Atlanta investigation was separate from the Cherokee County probe.

Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, was among those who pushed back against the initial police framing of the shooter's motives.

Baker had cited Long's "sexual addiction," which critics said dehumanized the victims and played into stereotypes of spas owned by Asian Americans. Officials also said they believe that when they apprehended Long, he was heading to Florida to commit further violence, suggesting he was planning to target "some type of porn industry" business.

"We are not about to get into victim blaming, victim shaming, here,” Bottoms said during Wednesday's press conference.

"We don't know additional information about what his motives were," she continued. "We will not begin to blame victims, and as far as we know in Atlanta these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar, [or] the radar of [the Atlanta Police Department]."

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