(Photo: Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office)
Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year old white male, gunned down several people at three different spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight. At least six of those murdered were of Asian descent, and seven were women.
The horrific event unfolded Tuesday evening. According to Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff Frank Reynolds, the first report of a shooting occurred around 4:45 pm EST. Within an hour, police responded to what was believed to be a suspected robbery on 1916 Piedmont Road. While investigating that incident, another report of a shooting on 1907 Piedmont Road came in.
Reynolds indicated that Long’s family provided critical information leading to his capture after seeing the police’s post on social media.
“Shortly thereafter, we were contacted by members of a family, indicating that that may be their son. So we met with them. I was there speaking with the family. They’re very distraught and they were very helpful in this apprehension,” he stated.
Long, the suspected lone-gunmen, was captured Tuesday night after the authorities used his cell phone to track his location. He was arrested without further incident and confessed to the crimes.
Police recovered a 9mm firearm from Long’s car, who, according to reports, was on his way to Florida when the police arrested him.
Authorities released the names of four of the six victims:
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth;
Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta;
Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw;
Daoyou Feng, 44, (unknown address)
While Long’s motivation for the crime remains unknown, most of his victims were of Asian descent and women. Violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has greatly increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, a center that collects data on violence and bullying against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders received reports of 3,292 incidents in 2020. Former President Trump’s insistence on referring to COVID-19 as the “china virus” did not help matters.
During a press conference Wednesday morning with the Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant, Reynolds, and other officials, authorities did not speculate about the motive. However, they conveyed that Long insists it was not racially motivated.
“[Long] does claim that it was not racially motivated,” Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said. “He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations … [as] a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
Similarly, Baker stated that Long was heading to Florida to target “some type of porn industry in that state.”
Notwithstanding Long’s claims that his actions were not racially motivated, many have spoken out against this incident and how it fits into the broader context of increased violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta issued a statement decrying the incident.
“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. When our most vulnerable community members are targeted, we all need to band together,” Executive Director Stephanie Cho shared in the official statement.
Greg Sterling, the Dean of Yale Divinity School, also spoke out against the growing violence against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders as he requested prayers for the victims’ families.
“Prejudice and hatred are not only wrong, they can be deadly. They not only threaten the victims but the very fabric of our society. The answer is not hatred in return, but it is a summons to work against all forms of hate speech and crimes and to build communities where we respect one another,” Sterling wrote. “May we pray for the families of those who were murdered and resolve in our hearts to eliminate the prejudices that plague our society both overtly and covertly.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first vice president of South-Asian descent, made a statement of solidarity in response to the violence.
“I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people. But knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hate,” said Harris.
President Biden is scheduled to address the violence later Wednesday evening.