A Georgia sheriff’s officer faces widespread condemnation for claiming that Robert Aaron Long – who admitted to killing eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta – was having a “really bad day”.
Long has been arrested as the suspect in the series of shootings that occurred in the Atlanta-area on Tuesday (16 March). Investigators said Long, 21, admitted to the killing spree during a news conference on Wednesday (17 March), but the police said Long denied the attack was motivated by race.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department said Robert Aaron Long has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. The police said Long may have been a patron at the massage parlours and that Long claims to have a “sex addiction”.
Captain Jay Baker said: “He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addition, and sees these locations as a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
He added that “yesterday was a really bad day for him [Robert Aaron Long] and this is what he did”. Baker said that Long “did take responsibility for the shootings” after he was arrested about 150 miles south of Atlanta.
Baker’s remarks have been met with swift condemnation on Twitter from users who saw them as minimising Long’s brutal attacks. BuzzFeed News reported that in 2020, Baker shared an image of a t-shirt with a logo that read: “COVID-19: imported virus from Chy-na.”
Massage parlours are known to sometimes be institutions that offer sex work, but police say there is no indication yet if that was the reason the three locations were targeted. Police also cautioned it was too early in the investigation to state a motive.
A law enforcement source told CNN that Robert Aaron Long was recently kicked out of his family home due to his sexual addiction, which the source said included frequently spending hours on end watching porn online.
Two law enforcement sources involved in the investigation told CNN that Long attempted to justify his actions by telling police that he thought about committing suicide but decided to “help” others with sexual addictions by targeting spas.
Police were called to the scene of a shooting that occurred at about 5pm on Tuesday (16 March) at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Cherokee County. Two people died at the scene, and two more people unfortunately died after being rushed to the hospital. One person was severely wounded in the attack.
Less than an hour later, police were called to another shooting – which they thought was a “robbery in progress” – at Gold Spa in Atlanta. Police said “three females” were found dead inside the massage parlour when authorities arrived.
The authorities were called to a spa across the street, called Aromatherapy Spa, where they found another woman dead.
Four victims have been identified as Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. The BBC said South Korean authorities are working to identify the nationalities of four women who are reported of Korean descent.
Elcias R Hernandez-Ortiz was identified as having been injured in the shootings.
Anti-Asian racist attacks are on the rise in the US
In the wake of the violent attack, president Joe Biden tweeted that he and Dr Jill Biden are keeping those impacted by the Atlanta shootings “in our prayers”. He wrote: “We don’t yet know the motive, but we do know that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight.”
“The recent attacks against the community are un-American,” Biden said. “They must stop.”
Pop star Rihanna also tweeted out that hate against Asian-Americans “must stop”. She called the attack in Atlanta “brutal, tragic and is certainly not isolated by any means”.
“I’m heartbroken for the Asian community, and my heart is with the loves ones of those we lost,” she added.
Rihanna also referenced research released by reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate, which found there had been a sharp rise in anti-Asian attacks in the last year. The forum revealed nearly 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents were reported over the last year during the pandemic.
This was significantly higher than last year’s count of about 2,808 hate incidents nationwide.
Of the reports during the pandemic, 68 per cent of violent incidents were made against women, while 28 per cent of respondents who reported an anti-Asian racist incidents were men.
Over two-thirds (68 per cent) of incidents included verbal harassment, 20 per cent included shunning Asian-Americans and 11 per cent of racist incidents were physical assault.