The suspect had previously been a patron at three massage parlors targeted in a deadly rampage and he blamed the spas for his sex addiction, police said.
ATLANTA (CN) — A string of shootings carried out Tuesday that left eight dead in three massage parlors across metro Atlanta does not appear to be motivated by race, officials said Wednesday morning.
Instead, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long told authorities during his confession that he blamed the spas for his sex addiction and indicated that he was on his way to Florida to commit more shootings on “some type of porn industry.”
There was widespread speculation since Tuesday that the attacks were racially motivated because six of the eight victims were Asian American women. The Asian American community has seen a surge in hate crimes amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“During our interviews we asked that specific question and that did not appear to be the motive,” said Sheriff Frank Reynolds of Cherokee County, where the first of the three shootings occurred.
Instead, Reynolds said they believed Long had previously been a patron at the spas and was “lashing out.”
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office was able to track Long’s phone and released an image from surveillance cameras as they began to coordinate with the Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State Patrol after the attack on the Young’s Asian Massage Parlor near Acworth.
Atlanta police got involved when they received a call about a shooting at the Gold Spa on Piedmont Road. The city’s police chief, Rodney Bryant, said while police were investigating that shooting, they received a call about another shooting down the street at the Aromatherapy Spa.
Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said Long’s parents cooperated with authorities and confirmed their son was the shooter while State Patrol officers were pursuing Long’s 2007 Hyundai Tucson. By the time the officers pulled him over with a maneuver that caused his car to spin out of control, Long was nearly 200 miles away in Crisp County.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms praised the law enforcement agencies for their “spectacular” coordination in their pursuit of the suspect. Bottoms said she had been in touch with President Joe Biden, who “offered full support and concern,” and that the White House offered to assist investigators with additional resources.
“This could have been significantly worse,” the Democratic mayor said.
When asked about possible illegal sexual activities happening at the spas, Bottoms asserted the parlors were all “legally operated businesses.”
While officials said Long wasn’t targeting Asian Americans, many on social media speculated it was a racially motivated hate crime because of increased violence toward Asian Americans this past year after former President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed the coronavirus pandemic on China.
The day before the shootings, Georgia State Senator Michelle Au, a first-generation Chinese American and a Democrat, pleaded with her colleagues to “recognize that we need help, we need protection, and we need people in power to stand up for us against hate.”
Au released a statement on Wednesday expressing the fear she and other Asian Americans have been living with over the past year.
“This latest series of murders only heightens that terror,” she said. “We are scared for our families; we are scared for our friends.”
Georgia’s U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, two Democrats who narrowly unseated incumbent Republicans in a historic runoff election in January, took to Twitter to denounce the violence and offer support to the Asian American community.
“While the motive for last night’s terrible violence remains under investigation, I express my love and support for and stand in solidarity with the Asian-American community, which has endured a shocking increase in violence and harassment over the last year,” Ossoff wrote Wednesday morning.
Former President Barack Obama also spoke out on Twitter Wednesday, posting, “Even as we’ve battled the pandemic, we’ve continued to neglect the longer-lasting epidemic of gun violence in America. Although the shooter’s motive is not yet clear, the identity of victims underscores an alarming rise in anti-Asian violence that must end.”
The FBI joined the investigation on Wednesday, touching down in South Georgia.
Long, who is being held in Cherokee County jail, will be arraigned Thursday morning.