The Fulton County district attorney will pursue hate crime charges and the death penalty against the suspect in the March rampage that killed six Asian Americans.
ATLANTA (CN) — A Fulton County grand jury on Tuesday returned murder charges against the man who is accused of gunning down eight people in metro Atlanta massage businesses, and the district attorney said she will seek the death penalty.
Robert Aaron Long, 22, was indicted for the March 16 killings of Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Young Ae Yue, 63.
Long is charged with four counts of murder, four counts of felony murder, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon, four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and one count of domestic terrorism.
The grand jury in Fulton County only indicted Long for the killings in Atlanta, so another grand jury in Cherokee County will decide whether to indict him for four more killings near Woodstock.
Because most of the victims were of Asian descent, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said she will seek hate crime charges and filed notice that she is pursuing the death penalty.
Long purchased a 9mm handgun on the day of the rampage, which started in Cherokee County at Youngs Asian Massage. The victims included Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54. Two of the four people fatally shot at that spa were of Asian descent.
The carnage continued 30 miles south at Gold’s Spa in Atlanta, where police say Long gunned down four women, three of whom died, before killing another woman across the street at the Aromatherapy Spa. All of the women who died there were Asian American.
After surveillance images were released, Long’s parents aided authorities as he fled nearly 200 miles before police caught him in Crisp County.
Long told police the shootings were motivated by sex addiction rather than race, but politicians on the state and national level contended that he targeted the spas because their owners were Asian Americans. Racially motivated crimes against Asian Americans increased over the last year as former President Donald Trump put the blame on China for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Days after the shooting, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American politicians and community leaders in Atlanta.
“Racism is real in America and always has been,” Harris said following the meeting. “Xenophobia is real in America and always has been. Sexism, too. The last year we’ve had people in incredible positions of power scapegoat Asian Americans.”
Biden said the victims’ families “are left with broken hearts and unanswered questions.”
“It’s been a year of living in fear of their lives just to walk the street,” the president said. “Hate and violence often hide in plain sight. It’s often met with silence…but that has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.”
Last year, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed a bill that imposes more penalties for crimes targeting minorities. The bill was in response to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot to death while jogging in a residential neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. White suspects Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. pleaded not guilty to their federal hate crime charges on Tuesday.
Willis’ pursuit of the death penalty against Long goes against her position during her 2020 campaign. She said at a forum that she would refuse to seek the death penalty if elected.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Georgia Democratic state Representative Bee Nguyen – who is Asian American – expressed her opposition to the death penalty.
“I’m relieved that these crimes are being treated as a hate crime but where I diverge is the death penalty,” Nguyen said. “I do not believe that brings justice for anyone.”
Representatives for Willis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.