A 21-year-old Georgia man who had publicly declared ‘a love for God and guns’ has been arrested in southwest Georgia, hours after eight people were killed in shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors.
Four Asian women were found dead at two parlors across the street from each other in northeast Atlanta, where police found bodies at one establishment before learning of shots being fired at the other.
The other four victims – two Asian women, a white woman and a white man – were killed at a third parlor 30 miles away in suburban Acworth. At least one other person, a Hispanic man, was injured.
Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, is a suspect in all three shootings and was taken into custody in Crisp County on Tuesday night following a police car chase about 150 miles south of Atlanta, about a three-hour drive.
The Crisp County Sheriff’s Office said it received information on the suspect’s car and spotted it driving along a highway whereupon police gave chase, ultimately ramming the vehicle off the road.
The FBI is now assisting the investigation, with police saying it is too early to tell whether the shootings were a racially-motivated hate crime.
But with six Asian women among the dead – four of them believed to be of Korean descent – the killing has already reignited anger over a surge in crime against Asian-Americans during the pandemic.
The White House has given no word on whether it is aware of the shootings – a typical holding statement under the Trump administration – with President Biden due to visit Atlanta on Friday to promote his stimulus bill.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, was taken into custody in Crisp County on Tuesday night following a police car chase, about 150 miles south of Atlanta
People with the medical examiner’s office wheel out a body on a stretcher from the Gold Spa massage parlor where three people were shot and killed on Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia
Bodies are wheeled out of Gold Spa in Atlanta where a man opened fire. Two other massage parlors were targeted
The shootings occurred on Tuesday afternoon around the Atlanta area. A body is seen being wheeled out of Gold Spa
Three shootings at spas and massage parlors around Atlanta left eight people dead and police on the hunt for those responsible
Georgia governor Brian Kemp said last night that ‘our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence’, while Sen. Raphael Warnock said that ‘my heart is broken after the tragic violence’ in Atlanta.
‘Once again we see that hate is deadly. Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community,’ Warnock said.
Details had yet to emerge about the victims. But Adriana Mejia, the niece of one of those injured, said the family was ‘devastated’ after her uncle was shot and that they were praying for his recovery.
‘We never know when we’re at the wrong place at the wrong time because this was so all of a sudden,’ she said.
Two residents of the Atlanta neighborhood, Piedmont Heights, described the stretch where the shootings took place to the New York Times as the ‘red-light district’ of the local community.
One of them, Gregory Welch, said: ‘It’s for sure disturbing, but even more so if it’s related to an anti-Asian factor from the Covid pandemic’.
As more details emerged about the sequence of events that took place on Tuesday afternoon, more information also came to light about the suspect’s life.
‘Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life,’ stated a tagline on an Instagram account believed to be Long’s.
A student who he went to high school with in 2017 told the Daily Beast Long was keen on religion but never seemed violent.
‘He was very innocent seeming and wouldn’t even cuss. He was sorta nerdy and didn’t seem violent from what I remember. He was a hunter and his father was a youth minister or pastor. He was big into religion.’
A youth pastor at the Crabapple First Baptist Church confirmed he was the suspect in the shootings, while reports said he had habitually attended the church with his family while his mother would organize events there.
In a 2018 video for the church – which had been deleted by Wednesday morning – Long had reportedly talked about his faith and described how he found God after hearing the biblical story of the prodigal son.
‘By the grace of God I was able to draw the connection there and realize this is a story between what happened with me and God. I ran away living completely for myself, and he still wants me, and so that’s when I was saved,’ he said.
The Crapabble church gave a statement to Heavy.com saying it was ‘grieved to hear the tragic news’ about the deaths and was ‘heartbroken for all involved’.
‘We grieve for the victims and their families, and we continue to pray for them. Moreover, we are distraught for the Long family and continue to pray for them as well,’ it said.
On Tuesday, Long found himself to be the prime suspect in the murders of seven women and one man.
After his car was seen pulling up to the Acworth parlor shortly before the shooting, police said footage showed the same vehicle in the area of the Atlanta spas 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.
Long was taken into custody after a ‘brief pursuit’ about 150 miles from Atlanta in which state troopers caused the the suspect’s Hyundai to ‘spin out of control’ until Long was stopped and detained.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed from police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent. A Korean consulate was working to confirm their nationality.
The first shooting happened just before 5pm on Tuesday at Young’s Asian Massage parlor off Bells Ferry Road and Highway 92 in Acworth, Georgia about 30 miles from Atlanta.
It appears that all five victims were shot inside the business.
Two of the victims died at the scene and three were transported to a hospital where two of them also died, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jay Baker said.
The shopping center where Young’s Asian Massage is located was closed to the public as investigators search for ballistics, fingerprints and other evidence according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
In a 2018 video for the church – which had been deleted by Wednesday morning – Long had reportedly talked about his faith and described how he found God after hearing the biblical story of the prodigal son
The suspect was captured by surveillance video pulling up to Young’s Asian Massage around 4:50pm, just minutes before the shooting
The suspect was captured pulling away from the business in a black Hyundai SUV after the shooting had occurred in Cherokee County near Bells Ferry Road north of Atlanta
The Crisp County Sheriff’s Office, pictured, said it received information on the suspect’s car and spotted it driving along a highway whereupon police gave chase ultimately ramming the vehicle off the road. Sheriff Frank Reynolds is pictured, right
The suspect was captured by surveillance video pulling up to the Acworth business at around 4:50pm, just minutes before the shooting.
The sheriff’s office posted surveillance pictures on its Facebook page, asking people to share the images that show the man near the vehicle.
From there, it’s believed the gunman drove more than 30 miles and opened fire at two other businesses northeast of the city in the suburb of Woodland Hills.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said three people were killed Gold Spa, while a fourth person was killed across the street at Aromatherapy Spa.
He said all four victims were female, and ‘it appears that they may be Asian.’
The second set of shootings occurred less than an hour and fifteen minutes later, just before 6pm at Gold Spa.
Police were called to the location having been told that a robbery was taking place on the premises.
When police entered Gold Spa they found three women who had all been shot and subsequently died from their wounds.
‘While at that location we received another call across the street that had shots fired,’ Bryant said. ‘We responded to that to find another individual was shot at that location.’
Cops then rushed to Aromatherapy Spa directly across the street. Officers responded immediately, crossing Piedmont Road to find that one woman had also been shot and killed there as well.
Authorities investigate a fatal shooting at Young’s Asian Massage where a gunman opened fire before targeting two other businesses
Law enforcement officials confer outside Gold Spa following a shooting on Tuesday
A police official stands in front of Aromatherapy Spa after a series of shootings on Tuesday
At least eight people were reported dead following a string of shootings at three metro Atlanta massage parlors. The proximity of Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa can be seen in this photo
The lights were still shining at the Aromatherapy spa which had earlier been the scene of a brutal killing
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant, pictured, said three people were killed at a spa in northeast Atlanta, while a fourth person was killed at another spa across the street. He said all four victims were female, and ‘It appears that they may be Asian.’
FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said the agency was assisting Atlanta and Cherokee County authorities in the investigation.
The shootings took place at spas where a majority of the employees are Asian, but it was not immediately clear whether the victims were staff, customers or bystanders.
The Democratic party in the state called Tuesday’s shooting spree ‘horrifying.’
‘As details continue to emerge, this attack sadly follows the unacceptable pattern of violence against Asian Americans that has skyrocketed throughout this pandemic,’ said Congresswoman Nikema Williams.
In an address to the nation last Thursday, President Biden forcefully condemned what he called ‘vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.’
‘It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop,’ he said.
Due to the shootings, Atlanta police said they dispatched officers to check nearby similar businesses and increased patrols in the area.
Hundreds of miles away in New York, the NYPD’s Critical Response Command was deployed to Asian communities throughout the city. The pandemic has seen a recent uptick in hate crimes towards Asian Americans.
On Tuesday evening in Atlanta, Piedmont Road was still completely shut down in both directions with heavy police activity in the area.
Officers could be seen with guns walking on the street outside both spas. Chief Bryant assured the public there was no immediate danger to the public.
Investigators are now gathering information from the scenes to determine the timeline of what occurred and the motive behind the shootings.
Law enforcement officials did not offer a motive for the shooting rampage and said they did not immediately know if the Asian women were targeted. Also killed in the Cherokee attacks were a white woman and a white man.
Police from all jurisdictions say they are ‘very confident’ that the same suspect was the gunman in all three shootings.
Gold Spa was the scene of the second shooting where three women were shot and killed
Plenty of police were still on scene as the shootings were investigated as dusk fell
THE RISE OF ASIAN HATE CRIMES AMID THE PANDEMIC
Last week, President Joe Biden condemned what he called ‘vicious hate crimes’ committed against Asian Americans since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, calling such acts ‘un-American’ and demanding they stop.
‘Too often, we’ve turned against one another,’ Biden said in his first primetime address, detailing the progress made in the fight against Covid-19.
The Democratic president decried ‘vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated’ over the pandemic, which originated in China.
During an address to the nation last week, President Joe Biden condemned what he called ‘vicious hate crimes’ against Asian-Americans
‘At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans – they’re on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives and still, still they’re forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,’ Biden said.
‘It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop.’
Activists say broader anti-Asian discrimination has been fueled by talk of the ‘Chinese virus’ from former president Donald Trump and others.
A protester takes part in a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence, near Chinatown in Los Angeles last month
Just days into his presidency, Biden signed an executive order on January 26 condemning racism towards the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community during the pandemic.
States are following suit, with California and New York allocating more resources to combating anti-Asian racism and draft legislation in the works in New York.
Racial motivation is hard to establish in many cases, but reported anti-Asian hate crimes more than doubled from 49 to 122 last year across 16 major US cities including New York and Los Angeles – even as overall hate crime fell, according to a California State University study.
The report looked at events categorized as criminal in nature and showing evidence of ethnic or racial bias, using preliminary local police data.
It aligns with another study from the Stop AAPI Hate advocacy group showing more than 2,800 incidents of racism and discrimination – including non-physical forms – targeting Asian-Americans and reported online across the United States between March and December last year.
While absolute numbers of hate crimes remain relatively small, Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), which co-founded the Stop AAPI Hate advocacy group, says it’s likely there are many more lower-level incidents going undetected.
‘The recent surge has to do with the fact that there’s blame being pointed at China’ over Covid-19, Choi said. ‘And then also couple that with racist rhetoric by the former president… and other elected officials.’
Reports of attacks, primarily against Asian-American elders, have spiked in early 2021 – fueled, activists believe, by talk of the ‘Chinese virus’ by former president Donald Trump and others