On Wednesday, police charged the man who shot up three massage parlors in the Atlanta area, murdering eight people.
Six of the victims were women of Asian descent, officials said, with their Tuesday evening deaths sparking fear and anger in the Asian-American community.
21-year-old Robert Aaron Long was charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in the Cherokee County, Georgia shootings, Sheriff Frank Reynolds said. Currently, Long is in custody in Cherokee County without bond, with officials saying the gunman waived his right to an attorney.
The shooter had informed police he was driving to Florida when he was apprehended after the shootings Tuesday evening, said Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. According to Baker, Long said he may have been trying to carry out similar violence at a business tied to the “porn industry” there. After his parents told the authorities they believed their son might be the suspect, the police were able to track his phone, and Long was arrested.
Long also told police that he targeted the parlors because he blamed them “for providing an outlet for his addiction to sex,” law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
“It’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Baker said. “He said it was not racially motivated.”
Despite the gunman’s claims that it was not motivated by racism, authorities said they had not ruled out bias as a motivating factor. This comes as reported hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic.
In a report published on Tuesday, the group Stop AAPI Hate said it had received reports of 3,795 hate incidents between March 19 and February 28. However, according to the group, the number could be higher due to not all incidents being reported. The report was released the same day as the three shootings.
Founded in March of last year to fight against hate crimes during the pandemic, Stop AAPI Hate gathers data on incidents of hate and harassment against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
Moreover, Long had confessed to the shootings and that he seemed to be acting alone, Baker also said.
Reynolds also said, “We believe he frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out.”
Following a manhunt, Long was arrested about 150 miles south of Atlanta, the authorities said. Earlier, they had released a surveillance image of a suspect near a Hyundai Tucson outside one of the parlors.
Four of the murder counts and the assault charge are tied to the first shooting, in Cherokee County, and the other four murder counts pertain to the shootings at two parlors in Atlanta less than an hour later, according to the authorities.
So far, four of the victims have been identified as Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Yan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44, per the BBC. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz was identified as having been injured.
Rodney Bryant, the acting chief of the Atlanta Police Department, said it was not clear yet whether the shootings would be classified as a hate crime.
“We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment,” Bryant said. “We are just not there as of yet.”
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.
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