Georgia spa shootings: Suspect charged with 8 counts of murder; killings inextricably tied to race, experts say: Here’s what we know now

Eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, were killed Tuesday night in three shootings at Atlanta-area spas before police arrested a man suspected of being the lone shooter.

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia, has been charged with eight counts of murder and scheduled for his initial court appearance, an arraignment for Thursday.

Long was taken into custody in Crisp County on Tuesday night, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker said. On Wednesday morning, he was extradited into Cherokee County Sheriff’s custody, Haley Little, a Crisp County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told USA TODAY.

Police said Long told authorities his actions were not racially motivated and he frequented some of the spas where the shootings happened.

But many experts and top Asian American lawmakers say it’s hard not to see racism inextricably tied to the killings due to a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States.

Here’s what we know right now:

Who were the victims?

Seven women and one man were killed in the string of attacks, the majority were of Asian descent.

In Cherokee County, the victims were Delaina Ashley Yuan, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44. A 30-year-old Hispanic man was injured.

All four victims of the Atlanta shootings were Asian women, police said.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that its diplomats in Atlanta confirmed four of the women were of Korean descent.

Michels’ younger brother, John Michels, 52, said he believes his brother was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He said they grew up with a total of nine siblings in Detriot, riding dirt bikes and spending summer weekends at a lake and getting into mischief together. They both served in the U.S. Army at the same time and his brother served as an infantryman in the late 1980s.

“I’m the closest in age, so we were basically like twins,” John said. “We did everything together growing up.”

John said Paul Michels owned an alarm company in Atlanta, where he and his wife, Bonnie, have lived 26 years. “He was just a very hard-working Republican,” John added, “and a very strong Trump supporter.”

Even in grief, John insisted on putting out a message to the alleged slayer: “Although this is a tragedy, I forgive that man and so will Jesus Christ… I cannot hate him for it. I pray for his repentance.”

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What else do we know about the suspect?

Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker said a 9mm firearm was recovered from Long’s car.

Long was officially charged by authorities with eight counts of murder Wednesday in all three shootings. Four of the counts against Long are related to shootings at two massage parlors in Atlanta. The other four are related to shootings at a massage parlor in Cherokee County.

During an interview with Atlanta police, Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies and FBI officials, Long said his actions were not racially motivated, according to Reynolds.

Long had been in rehab for sex addiction and felt guilty about his sexual urges, according to two people who lived with him in transitional housing.

Related:Georgia spa shooting suspect, charged with 8 counts of murder, attended rehab for sex addiction

Baker said Long believed there was “some type of porn industry” in Florida that he intended to confront and that he was on his way to the state when he was apprehended.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, however, that the Atlanta spas were not on police’s radar.

Long purchased a firearm Tuesday — the day of the attacks — from Big Woods Goods, a sporting good story in Cherokee County. Matt Kilgo, the shop’s attorney, said his clients are “fully cooperating” with police. “Everything they have will be turned over,” Kilgo said.

Authorities said the only police report on file with the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office mentioning Long was from 2019 when the then-19-year-old ran off with his girlfriend and was reported missing by his parents. “Their son sent them a text stating he was not returning home and wanted a fresh start,” the report states.

Were the attacks targeting people of Asian descent?

Local police said Wednesday that it was too soon to tell whether the killings at the massage parlors were racially motivated, saying they could have been linked to sex addiction.

Long viewed the spas as “a temptation that he wanted to eliminate,” according to a Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

But Yale University Sociology Department chair Grace Kao, an expert on Asian American studies, said it was hard to disentangle race from the killings.

The shooter had targeted Asian American women, and given how “Asian American women have been viewed as exotic and feminine objects in U.S. mass media and suspected of prostitution from the earliest U.S. immigration restrictions,” the suspect could easily have viewed Asian American women in the same manner, she said.

“If you talk to the average Asian American woman, most of us have been subject to varying degrees of sexual harassment that targets our gender and racial identities,” Kao said. “They do not exist separately in the lives of individuals.”

Opinion:Violence and hate against Asian Americans is a health and safety crisis for everyone

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said the “crimes are beyond terrifying, but it just brings home to so many Asian Americans that they are fearful of their lives and circumstances” as they faced both the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in hate incidents.

She said her group of lawmakers met with the Department of Justice to discuss a nationwide rise in hate incidents and “we are right now determining actions against AAPI hate.” She called for the passage of legislation to improve hate crime reporting and also for the establishment of a national day to speak out against anti-Asian American hate on March 26.

Where to donate to help Asian communities, and how to organize

Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks acts of discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, found that around 3,800 incidents of hate, discrimination or attacks on Asian Americans occurred from March 2020 through February 2021. You can donate to that cause here.

New anti-hate crime legislation is set to be introduced in both chambers of Congress, following executive orders from President Joe Biden addressing the attacks.

Several GoFundMe fundraisers have been started for the victims and for the Asian American community — the site has started a hub of verifiable fundraisers.

There are more ways you can help be an ally, including reading up on the history of anti-Asian racism and what to do if you see anti-Asian racism.

Contributing: Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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