Eight people were killed in shootings at three businesses in the Atlanta area on Tuesday. Six of the eight victims were Asian women, authorities say.
The attacks began at around 5 pm Tuesday afternoon. Atlanta police officers first responded to a crime scene at Young’s Asian Massage, where four people were killed, in Cherokee County, just north of Atlanta. The victims were Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng, according to police. A fifth person, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
About 45 minutes later, four more people were killed at two other businesses — Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa — just across the street from each other. While the names of the victims have not yet been released, all four of them were of Korean descent, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry officials said in a statement, though their nationalities have yet to be verified.
In Cherokee County, authorities arrested the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, on the side of Interstate 75, roughly 150 miles south of Georgia Tuesday night after a police chase. Long, who officers believe was heading to Florida to commit similar crimes prior to the arrest, has been charged with eight counts of murder and homicide and one count of aggravated assault.
Federal agents are joining local authorities to investigate the shootings, and while the victims were predominantly Asian women, many officials remain wary about pointing to any motives. “A motive is still not clear, but a crime against any community is a crime against us all,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement Wednesday.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that he is “very concerned” about the Atlanta shootings, adding that he’s been speaking out about the “very troubling” anti-Asian violence in recent months. But he’s “making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer,” Biden said. “I’m waiting for an answer as the investigation proceeds from the FBI and from the Justice Department. I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed.”
The FBI, meanwhile, told the Washington Post that it is ready to investigate if “information comes to light of a potential federal civil rights violation.”
Motives remain unclear, but advocacy groups point to a rise in anti-Asian hate
While Atlanta officials say it is still early to know what motivated the shootings, Tuesday’s attacks sparked outrage and sorrow among advocacy groups across the country, particularly Asians, as they continue to face a growing number of pandemic-related anti-Asian hate incidents.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Cherokee County sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said the suspect indicated in police interviews that he targeted the locations because he was angry at the “porn industry,” and saw the businesses as something “he wanted to eliminate.” Officials also said the suspect claimed that he had a “sexual addiction” and that the shooting “was not racially motivated.” (BuzzFeed News later revealed that Baker had previously shared images of a racist T-shirt on Facebook that read, “Covid 19: Imported virus from Chy-na.”)
Meanwhile, the Atlanta police chief said it was too “early in this investigation to determine [the shooting] a hate crime, even though we made an arrest.”
But many advocates say it is impossible to divorce race from misogynist crimes that disproportionately impacted Asians. “Many of the victims are Asian. These murders occurred at a time when anti-Asian violence has been spiking,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted in response to the attacks. “All officials should do their part to condemn violence and not inflame further discrimination.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) called out former President Donald Trump for spurring anti-Asian sentiment and violence with his racist named for the virus. “President Trump clearly stoked the flames of xenophobia against AAPIs with his rhetoric,” she said at a news conference. “The CDC and the World Health Organization said we should all use the official term Covid-19 in order to make sure this disease is not associated with a particular geographical location or ethnicity due to the stigma it causes. And President Trump refused to acknowledge that and instead used the terms ‘China virus,’ ‘Wuhan Virus’ and ‘Kung flu.’”
On Tuesday, Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that has been tracking anti-Asian violence reports, also released its latest report that nearly 3,800 incidents had been reported since March 2020. The report also shows that a disproportionate number of anti-Asian attacks were directed at women, who reported hate incidents twice as often as men.
The reported shootings of Asian American women on Tuesday in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy – for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI community — which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination. https://t.co/rBVPnrEBps— Stop AAPI Hate (@StopAAPIHate) March 17, 2021
Since the shootings took place at spas, Atlanta police said they have dispatched officers to similar businesses. Baker said homicides are rare for the area, adding that the county “had one homicide” in 2020. The incidents also stoked responses from places like New York City, which deployed counterterrorism officers to Asian communities for caution.
Correction, March 17: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a shooting victim, based on police reports. Revised news reports list her name as Xiaojie Tan.