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UPDATE 5-Motive in Georgia spa shootings may not be race, but Asian-Americans fearful

UPDATE 5-Motive in Georgia spa shootings may not be race, but Asian-Americans fearful

· 03/17/2021 10:59
UPDATE 5-Motive in Georgia spa shootings may not be race, but Asian-Americans fearful

Adds more from law enforcement, gun control efforts, right group

By Rich McKay

- A Georgia man facing murder and assault charges after the fatal shootings of eight people, including six Asian women, at Atlanta-area spas indicated he had sexual addiction issues and may have not been motivated by racial hatred, authorities said on Wednesday.

Tuesday's killings have intensified fears in Asian-American communities around the United States that have been the target of some attacks since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. It also was the latest gun violence in the United States with numerous deaths.

The 21-year-old suspect, Robert Aaron Long, was charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said. Long was being held in the county about 40 miles (64 km) north of Atlanta, Georgia's capital.

Officials said Long indicated he may have frequented the spas where Tuesday's violence occurred, although authorities could not immediately confirm whether he visited any of them. Long was heading to Florida when he was apprehended, perhaps to carry out further shootings, authorities said.

"The suspect did take responsibility for the shooting," Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department told a news conference.

"These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him, something that he shouldn't be doing," Baker said. "It's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate."

Long lived in Woodstock, Georgia, and attended Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, an Atlanta suburb. A mug shot of Long released by authorities showed a white man with a long and scraggly brown beard.

It was not clear if the suspect visited spas for sex.

"This is still an ongoing investigation and at this time we cannot answer any questions pertaining to the businesses, nor services that any of these locations were offering during or before this incident took place," Officer C.J. Johnson of the Atlanta Police Department said in a statement.

U.S. authorities were trying to determine whether the attacks were inspired by an anti-immigrant or anti-Asian motivation or some personal grievance.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he was briefed by the U.S. attorney general and FBI director on the shootings.

"The question of motivation is still to be determined," Biden told reporters at the White House. "But whatever the motivation here I know that Asian-Americans are very concerned."

A report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism this month showed that hate crimes against Asian-Americans in 16 major U.S. cities rose by 149% from 2019 to 2020, a period when overall hate crimes dropped 7%.

The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate has said the rise appeared to result from Asians and Asian-Americans being blamed for the pandemic, which originated in China. Former President Donald Trump called the novel coronavirus the "China virus," the "China plague" or even the "kung flu."


'LIVING WITH FEAR'

"There is still a lot unknown about this but one thing is clear: the Asian-American community already has been living with fear for the last year because of racism," lawyer John Yang, who worked in former President Barack Obama's administration, posted on Twitter on Tuesday night. "These murders will intensify that fear."

The bloodshed began about 5 p.m. on Tuesday when four people were killed and another was wounded at Young's Asian Massage in Cherokee County, Baker said. Two women of Asian descent were among the dead there, along with a white woman and a white man, Baker said. The surviving victim was a Hispanic man.

In Atlanta, police officers responding to a call of a "robbery in progress" shortly before 6 p.m. arrived at the Gold Spa beauty salon and found three women shot dead, Police Chief Rodney Bryant told reporters.

While investigating the initial report, the officers were called to a separate spa across the street where another woman was found dead from a gunshot wound, Bryant said. All four women killed in Atlanta were of Asian descent.

Long was spotted in southern Georgia, far from the crime scenes, after police in Cherokee County issued a bulletin. He was arrested without incident after a highway pursuit, law enforcement officials said.

His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday, they said.

Long's quick apprehension was aided by his family's cooperation with law enforcement and by footage of the suspect from security cameras at the shootings' locations, police said.

"We are really appreciative of the family. Without them this would not have happened as quickly as it happened. They were very supportive," Baker said.

The killings were the latest in a string of mass shootings at schools, movie theaters, medical clinics and other public places in the United States over the past decades.

Gun control is a divisive issue in the United States, which enshrines the right to bear arms in the Constitution. The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a pair of gun control bills as Democrats seized upon a shifting political landscape that they said improved chances for enacting new laws after years of failed attempts. nL1N2L91TX

"We are witnessing the results of what happens when racist and misogynistic ideologies collide in a society where there is also easy access to guns," Amnesty International USA said in a statement.


Eight killed, including six women of Asian descent, at shootings at Atlanta day spasnL1N2LF02C

U.S. House passes two Democratic-backed gun control bills nL1N2L91TX

(Reporting by Rich MacKay in Atlanta, Susan Heavey in Washington and Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Daniel Trotta in Vista, Calif., Jan Wolfe, Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland, Sarah N. Lynch in Washington, Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Writing by Maria Caspani and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Howard Goller, Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)

((maria.caspani@thomsonreuters.com; + 1 646 223 4074))