Police identify four of eight people killed in Atlanta-area shootings that have ‘shaken’ Asian Americans

Shootings at three Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, left eight people dead, including six Asian women. Advocates were concerned that the killings could be the latest in a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans, but law enforcement suggested that the suspect in custody had other motives.

Police arrested Robert Aaron Long, 21, after a brief manhunt, Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said at a news conference Feb. 17, 2021. Long confessed to the shootings during his interview with authorities, Baker said, and he acted alone.

Long said the acts of violence were not racially motivated, according to Baker.

Police arrested Long after a brief manhunt and said he is the suspect in all three shootings. Police said they interviewed him Tuesday night, with the assistance of the FBI.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it is unclear whether the shootings that killed eight people, including six Asian women, could be classified as a hate crime.

“I think it’s important we acknowledge the fact if this is hate crime,” Bryant said at a news conference. “We are still early in this investigation, so we can’t make a determination. We are very early.”

The sheriff’s office identified four of the people killed: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth, Ga.; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44. A fifth victim, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, suffered injuries that are not life-threatening, police said.

Baker said that in their interview with Long, 21, the suspect indicated that the spas were “a temptation” for him. “It’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Baker told reporters. “It’s still early on, but those were comments that he made.”

“He made indicators that he has some issues, potentially sexual addiction, and may have frequented some of these places in the past, Baker said. “We still have a lot of things to process.”

The killings come as crimes against Asian Americans have spiked across the United States. Since the start of the pandemic, Asian Americans reported nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents in all 50 states, according to a report released Tuesday by Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that advocates for Asian and Pacific islander Americans.

Bryant emphasized that officials are still early in the investigation.

“Even though we have made an arrest, there’s still a lot more work to be done,” he said.

President Joe Biden was briefed overnight about “the horrific shootings” in Atlanta, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Wednesday.

“White House officials have been in touch with the mayor’s office and will remain in touch with the FBI,” Psaki said.

According to a pool report, Biden was to speak to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday morning.

Vice President Kamala Harris called the shootings “tragic” and expressed condolences to the families of the eight people killed, including six Asian women.

“We grieve for the loss,” said Harris, who is of Asian descent. “It speaks to a larger issue, which is violence in our country and to never tolerate it.”

While saying the motive of the shooter is not clear, Harris, a former prosecutor, noted that most of the victims were Asian and said no “form of hate” should be tolerated.

Among the victims killed in Atlanta were four women of Korean ethnicity, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. South Korea’s Consulate General in Atlanta dispatched a consul to the site, according to a Ministry statement.

Local advocates said they were stunned by the shootings and called for quick action.

“We are shaken by the violence in our city that has left 8 people dead, including members of the Asian American community,” said Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta in a statement. “We are gathering information about what happened and what the needs of those directly impacted are. Now is the time to hold the victims and their families in our hearts and with light.”

Georgia Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat who represents a swath of North Fulton and Gwinnett counties, said that she was “shocked and saddened” when she first saw news of Tuesday night’s shootings, but also that she was “not surprised.”

“Obviously the events are still unfolding, and we’re still getting more information. So I don’t want to jump to any conclusions as to the motivations behind this particular crime,” she said. “But just stepping back for a bit, I think that there is a picture in this country, especially over the past year, of increasing discrimination and violence against our Asian American communities.”

She said that regardless of what authorities determine to be the motive for Tuesday’s shootings, “it is taking place in a landscape where Asian Americans are increasingly terrified and fearful for their lives and their safety because of these escalating threats against our people.”

Late Wednesday morning, former president Barack Obama tweeted about “the longer-lasting epidemic of gun violence in America.”

“Yesterday’s shootings are another tragic reminder that we have far more work to do to put in place commonsense gun safety laws and root out the pervasive patterns of hatred and violence in our society,” he said.

The killings began just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, authorities said, when surveillance video showed a man in a navy and red hoodie walking into Young’s Asian Massage, a spa on a busy commercial strip about 40 miles north of downtown Atlanta.

Four victims were shot inside the parlor along Highway 92, Baker said; two died at the scene, and two later died in a hospital. A fifth man, who was coming out of a nearby business, was wounded, the man’s niece told WSB-TV.

Those fatally shot were two Asian women, a White woman and a White man. A Hispanic man was taken to the hospital with injuries, Baker said.

Video showed the shooter jumping into a black Hyundai Tucson and speeding away, police said. Less than an hour later, at about 5:47 p.m., a gunman killed three women inside Gold Massage Spa, about 27 miles south of the first shooting, said Sgt. John Chafee of the Atlanta Police Department.

Police responded to a call of a “robbery in progress” at Gold Massage Spa and were still on the scene when shots were fired across the street inside Aromatherapy Spa, according to Chafee. Officers found one woman inside that business who was also fatally shot.

With the help of surveillance footage, police said they soon identified Long, who lives in Woodstock, Ga., as the suspect. Police posted photos of the Hyundai Tucson and Long and launched a massive search. In Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, the sheriff’s office said it heard at about 8 p.m. that a homicide suspect was headed its way.

About a half-hour later, state patrol troopers and Crisp County deputies saw a 2007 black Hyundai Tucson on the highway, and a trooper performed a tactical maneuver that caused the car to “spin out of control,” Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said.

Long was taken to jail “without incident,” Hancock said, and his office forwarded its information to the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. After Long was taken into custody, police said they recovered a 9mm firearm.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, condemned the area shootings.

“A motive is still not clear, but a crime against any community is a crime against us all,” Bottoms said in a statement.

Bottoms praised law enforcement for apprehending Long. She said she is working with the White House and the Atlanta Police Department as they “investigate the suspect who is responsible for this senseless violence in our city.”

“My prayers are with the families and friends of the victims whose lives were cut short by these shootings,” Bottoms said.

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