Content Warning: Mentions of murder and shooting. Viewer discretion is advised.
A series of shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday, March 16 left eight people dead and at least one wounded. The heinous attack is hypothesized to be a hate crime against Asian American women, especially since six of the eight victims were Asian and all but one were women. Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old white male suspect, has since been detained and is currently awaiting trial in Cherokee County Adult Detention Center.
Long first targeted Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Cherokee County, just northwest of Atlanta. The surveillance footage of the businesses neighboring the parlor showed Long’s Hyundai Tucson SUV entering the strip mall parking lot at 2:37 p.m. He stayed in his vehicle directly in front of the massage parlor before leaving the SUV at 3:37 p.m. and walking towards the spa. The video also showed him struggling with an unknown object on his side, which authorities believe to have been the pistol used in the mass murders. Long is seen leaving the massage parlor and immediately driving off in his SUV at 4:50 p.m. Cherokee County Sheriff’s deputies arrive mere minutes after his departure around 4:55 p.m., responding to reports from passerbys of robbery. Inside the store, the officers found a horrific scene awaiting them: two Asian women, a white woman, and a white man murdered. Further inspection revealed an injured Hispanic man, who was immediately brought to the hospital. The victims were later revealed to by Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; and Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, who is currently in stable conditions.
The second and third attack occurred an hour later to neighboring spas on Piedmont Road in northeast Atlanta. Several calls were made by the female employees to the emergency dispatcher. The first call was made from a woman in Gold Spa at 5:47 p.m., frantically reporting an armed and unstable man entering the store. The woman begged the authorities to “hurry” because “they have a gun” in the 911 audio released on Wednesday. Authorities arrived less than two minutes after the initial phone call to find three Asian women who appeared to have passed from gunshot wounds. The second call was made 9 minutes later by a woman from Aromatherapy Spa, a business just across the street, reporting an armed man and gunfire. The deputies arrived two minutes after the call and found a fourth woman dead. The names of the victims were released on Thursday and identified to be Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Sun Cha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63. The medical examiners later pronounced the four Asian American women died instantly, all from bullet wounds to the head, except Kim, who passed from multiple bullet wounds to the chest.
The Cherokee County Sheriff posted the security footage of the suspect onto social media and released a BOLO (Be On The Lookout) announcement for his vehicle. The officials were reportedly contacted by Long’s family members who indicated that the suspect may be their son, Robert Aaron Long. Sheriff Frank Reynolds stated that the family was “very distraught and… very helpful in this apprehension.” With permission from the family, the deputies were able to track Long’s cellphone to narrow down his movements and locations, forming a plan to apprehend him on Interstate 75. The Georgia State Patrol troopers initiated a traffic stop that caused Long’s SUV to spin out of control about 30 mins later.
Long was taken into custody without resistance and later moved to county jail. He explicitly told the investigators that he took responsibility and “understood the gravity of what he did,” although the public noted a clear lack of remorse and empathy in his words. Long has since been transferred back to Cherokee County Adult Detention Center and is currently awaiting his trial. Authorities found a 9 mm firearm found in his vehicle, which they assume to be the murder weapon. While it is unclear when the weapon was purchased, an employee at Big Wood Goods in Holly Springs alleged that Long had bought the pistol the Tuesday prior.
The authorities believed that Long planned on crossing state borders to Florida to, in the words of Captain Jay Baker, target “some type of porn industry”. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms would later state that she believed that he wanted “perhaps to carry out additional shootings” and that “the public as a whole should be grateful that this suspect was quickly apprehended because it’s very likely that there would have been more victims yesterday.”
Following the egregious attack, the Atlanta police have been dispatched to patrol other spas in the area as a precaution for further violence. According to Kevin Rowson, a spokesman from the FBI’s Atlanta office, the FBI is currently assisting Cherokee County and Atlanta police in the investigation. Long is currently being held without bond at the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center. Although the court dates have yet to be announced, he is to be charged with eight counts of murder and a count of aggravated assault.The Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, where Long allegedly attended, publicly vocalized its intent on removing him as a member because the church “can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.” The congregants collectively condemned the attack saying that “these unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel.”
Authorities held a press conference on Wednesday, where they said that they believed the suspect had a sex addiction and targetted spas as an outlet to “take out that temptation.” Sheriff Frank Reynolds alleged that Long had a history of frequenting massage parlors in this area and “may have been lashing out.” Captain Jay Baker reportedly said, “He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Baker further claims that “[Long] was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”
Following the press conference, the police received widespread backlash and disgust at their attempts to humanize the suspect rather than the victims. Many found the captain’s comments on the suspect “having a bad day” and “taking out his temptations” to be revolting and insensitive to the victim’s families as the statements justifies the crimes rather than condemning the violent murders. Following the press conference, California Representative Ted Lieu made clear his contempt for the police’s handling of the case and tweeted: “Based on today’s press conference, I would not have confidence in the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a fair investigation that respected the Asian victims.”
Many civilians and activists also criticize the law enforcement’s hesitancy to call the shootings a racially motivated hate crime against Asian American women. Authorities reported that they believe the violence to have been the result of Long’s sex addiction and Long himself stated that the crimes were not racially, but rather sexually, motivated. Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant stated, “We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment.” However, many civilians speculate that the shootings stemmed from anti-Asian hate crimes because the businesses targeted in the heinous crime were marketed as Asian or international spas with primarily Asian female employees. Additionally, many civilians have pointed to the clear hypersexualization and fetishization of Asian women in the decision to target the Asian spas.
Following the press conference, screenshots of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Facebook page emerged with what much of the public believed to be inappropriate, insensitive, and anti-Asian content. The sheriff had posted an image of T-shirts saying “Covid 19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA” with the caption “Place your order while they last”. The picture clearly promoted a xenophobic perception of the COVID-19 pandemic and many outraged civilians are deeming him unfit to handle the case and are calling for him to step down from his position.
Atlanta Mayor Bottoms released a statement stating that she is aware of the suspect’s claims that the shooting was not racially motivated “but I am taking that with a grain of salt. This is a man who murdered eight people in cold blood. All of the victims in Atlanta were Asian. … It is very difficult to ignore that the Asian community has once again been targeted and it’s happening all over the country.” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is currently in contact with the White House about the case and President Biden has reportedly offered federal assistance in the investigation and prosecution.
The President spoke of the mass murders on Wednesday after consulting with Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Although Biden says that further investigation is necessary for a better understanding of Long’s motives, he noted the clear implications of the violence towards the Asian American community during their time of strife. His statement referenced the rise in Asian American violence since the beginning of the pandemic, saying “silence is complicity” and “whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian Americans are very concerned.”
Various other officials have spoken out expressing their grief, support, and anger at the detestable murders. Georgia Governor Brain Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp released a statement, stating “We are heartbroken and disgusted by the heinous shootings that took place last night. We continue to pray for the families and loved ones of the victims. These horrific crimes have no place in Georgia.” In response to a spokesperson of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Atlanta reporting that four of the victims were of South Korean descent, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated “We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere. We will stand up for the right of our fellow Americans and Korean Americans to be safe and to be treated with dignity.” Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen, Georgia’s first Vietnamese American representative, publically expressed her beliefs that “[the murders were] the result of xenophobic rhetoric” against Asian Americans as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Atlanta chapter of nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice released a statement that “the broader context [of the violence] cannot be ignored,” referencing the increased incidences of Asian American hate crimes. Stephanie Cho, the executive director, noted the amplified fear of racial violence within the Asian American community since the beginning of the pandemic. The nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate reported receiving nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents towards the Asian American Pacific Islander Community, from verbal harassment to physical assault, since the beginning of the pandemic. On behalf of the AAAJ-Atlanta, Cho publicly stated “We are heartbroken by these acts of violence. Six Asian women lost their lives. Now is the time to hold the victims and their families in our hearts and in our light. We’re calling on our allies across communities of color to stand with us in grief and solidarity against racist violence in all its forms.”
Picture credit: image by Christina Matacotta