A white gunman was accused on Wednesday of killing eight people at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area in an attack that sent terror through Asian American society, which has been increasingly targeted during the coronavirus pandemic.
One day after the shootings, investigators tried to find out what could have forced 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long to commit the worst mass murder in the United States in almost two years.
Long told police that Tuesday’s attack was not racially motivated. He claimed he had a “sex addiction” and authorities said he apparently dismissed what he saw as sources of temptation. However, these statements encouraged outrage and widespread skepticism about the sites and the fact that six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.
The shootings appear to be at the “intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia”, says state rep. Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House and a frequent advocate for women and color communities.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said “it’s unacceptable, it’s hateful and it has to stop, regardless of the shooter’s motivation.”
Authorities said they did not know if Long ever went to massage parlors where the shootings occurred but that he was on his way to Florida to attack “some kind of porn industry.”
“He obviously has a problem, what he considers to be sex addiction, and sees these places as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” said Cherokee County Sheriff’s Captain Jay Baker. report.
Baker drew criticism for saying that Long had “a really bad day” and “this is what he did.” A Facebook page that appears to belong to Baker marketed a T-shirt with racist language about China and the coronavirus last year.
The Facebook account contained many photos of Baker going back months, including one of him in uniform outside the sheriff’s office. The account was deleted Wednesday night and Baker did not immediately respond to voicemails and an email with comments. The sheriff’s office also did not respond to a message.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Frank Reynolds said it was too early to say whether the attack was racially motivated – “but the indicators right now are that it may not be.”
The Atlanta mayor said police have not been to massage parlors in her city other than a minor potential theft.
“We will certainly not blame the victims,” Bottoms said.
The attack was the sixth massacre this year in the United States and the deadliest since Dayton, Ohio in August 2019, which left nine people dead, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.
It follows a calm in mass murder during the 2020 pandemic, which had the least number of such attacks in more than a decade, according to the database, which tracks massacres defined as four or more dead, excluding the shooter.
The killings terrified the Asian American community, which saw the shootings as an attack on them, given a new wave of attacks that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States. The virus was first identified in China, and then-President Donald Trump and others have used racially charged terms to describe it.
The attack began when five people were shot at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor near Woodstock, about 500 km north of Atlanta, authorities say. Four died: 33-year-old Delaina Ashley Yaun, 54-year-old Paul Andre Michels, 44-year-old Daoyou Feng and 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan, who owned the business.
Yaun and her husband came to the spa on a date, her mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV. Yaun leaves behind a 13-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter.
Her half-sister, Dana Toole, said Yaun’s husband locked himself in a room and was not injured.
“He’s taking it hard,” Toole said. “He was there. He heard the shots and everything. You can not get away from it when you’re in a room and shots are flying – what are you doing?”
The manager of a shop next door said that her husband was watching surveillance video after the shot and the suspect was sitting in his car for as long as an hour before he entered.
They heard screams and women running from the business, says Rita Barron, head of Gabby’s Boutique.
The same car was then seen about 48 kilometers away in Atlanta, where a call came in about a robbery at the Gold Spa and three women were shot to death. Another woman was shot dead at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street.
Long was arrested hours later by Crisp County deputies and state troops. He refused to stop on a highway and officers bumped into the back of his car, causing him to crash, Sheriff Billy Hancock said.
Officers found the way thanks to help from his parents, who recognized him from surveillance footage released by authorities and provided investigators with his cell phone information, which they used to track him down, said Reynolds, Cherokee County Sheriff.
“They are very worried, and they were very helpful in this concern,” he said.
President Joe Biden called the attack “very, very troublesome.”
“We do not yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is in enormous pain tonight. The latest attacks on society are un-American. They have to stop, “Biden tweeted on Wednesday.
Jill and I are all affected by the Atlanta shootings in our prayers. We do not know the motive yet, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is in enormous pain tonight. The latest attacks on society are un-American. They have to stop.
– President Biden (@POTUS) March 18, 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first black and South Asian woman in that office, expressed support for the Asian American community, saying, “We stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and upset all people.”
In the past year, thousands of incidents of abuse have been reported to an anti-hate group that tracks incidents against Asian Americans, and hate crimes in general are at the highest level in more than a decade.
“While the details of the shootings are still emerging, the broader context cannot be ignored,” Asian-American-American Justice said in a statement. “The shootings occurred during the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, driven by white supremacy and systemic racism.”
Nico Straughan met Long when he moved to the area in seventh grade and said that Long brought a Bible to school every day and was “super nice, super Christian, very quiet.”
“I do not know what heart disease he may have had, but he went from one of the nicest kids I ever knew in high school to being on the news,” Straughan said. “I mean, all my friends, we were surprised.”
The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize sex addiction in its main reference manual for mental disorders. While some people struggle to control their sexual behavior, it is often linked to other recognized disorders or moral views about sexuality, says David Ley, clinical psychologist and author of “The Myth of Sex Addiction.”
“These sexual behaviors that get this label are a symptom, not a cause,” Ley said.