Shocking new details emerge about massage parlour massacre

Tom Flanagan and Associated Press
·6-min read

A gunman who allegedly shot dead eight people, the majority of whom were Asian, claims to have a sex addition which authorities believe may have motivated him in the killings.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, was charged over the deaths on Wednesday afternoon (local time) following his alleged shooting spree in the Atlanta area in the US state of Georgia.

The shootings occurred at three massage parlours, prompting terror through the Asian American community that’s increasingly been targeted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Long told police that the attack was not racially motivated and claimed to have a “sex addiction,” with authorities saying he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation.

Six of the victims were identified as Asian and seven were women.

This booking photo provided by the Crisp County Sheriff's Office shows Robert Aaron Long on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Long was arrested as a suspect in the fatal shootings of multiple people at three Atlanta-area massage parlors, most of them women of Asian descent, authorities said.  (Crisp County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Robert Aaron Long has been charged over the eight killings. Source: AP

The shootings appear to be at the “intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia,” state Rep. Bee Nguyen said, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House and a frequent advocate for women and communities of colour.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that regardless of the shooter’s motivation, “it is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.”

Authorities said that they didn’t know if Long ever went to the massage parlours where the shootings occurred but that he was planning to go to Florida in a plot to attack “some type of porn industry.”

USA Today reported Long had visited some of the spas where the shootings took place.

“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Cherokee County sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker told reporters.

When asked whether somebody could have sexual encounters at the businesses, Bottoms did not answer, saying she did not want “to get into victim blaming, victim shaming here.”

CORRECTS DATELINE TO ACWORTH INSTEAD OF WOODSTOCK - Authorities investigate a fatal shooting at a massage parlor, late Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Acworth, Ga. Officials say 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, Georgia, has been captured hours after multiple people were killed in shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Youngs Asian Massage where Long allegedly first opened fire. Source: AP

Sheriff Frank Reynolds said it was too early to tell if the attack was racially motivated — “but the indicators right now are it may not be.”

The attack was the sixth mass killing this year in the U.S., and the deadliest since the August 2019 Dayton, Ohio, shooting that left nine people dead, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

It follows a lull in mass killings during the pandemic in 2020, which had the smallest number of such assaults in more than a decade, according to the database, which tracks mass killings defined as four or more dead, not including the shooter.

The killings horrified the Asian American community, which saw the shootings as an attack on them, given a recent wave of assaults 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.

How the deadly shootings unfolded

The attacks began Tuesday evening (local time), when five people were shot at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor near Woodstock, about 50km north of Atlanta, authorities said.

Two people died at the scene, and three were taken to a hospital, where two died.

Police have identified those four victims as Delaina Ashley Yuan, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Xiaojie Yan, 49, and Daoyou Feng, 44.

About an hour later, police responding to a call about a robbery found three women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa, which is in a strip of tattoo parlours and strip clubs in one of the last ungentrified holdouts in an upscale area of Atlanta.

Officers then learned of a call reporting gunfire across the street, at Aromatherapy Spa, and found another woman apparently shot dead.

President Joe Biden said the FBI briefed him on the shootings and noted that Asian Americans are concerned about a recent rise in violence, a surge he has previously condemned. He called the attack “very, very troublesome” but was waiting for answers on the shooter’s motivation.

Vice President Kamala Harris offered condolences to the victims’ families.

“We’re not yet clear about the motive. But 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,” said Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman to be vice president.

Shootings increase fears among Asian community

Over the past year, thousands of cases 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.

“We are heartbroken by these acts of violence,” Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta said in a statement.

“While the details of the shootings are still emerging, the broader context cannot be ignored. The shootings happened under the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fuelled by white supremacy and systemic racism.”

Police in major cities deplored the killings. Seattle’s mayor said “the violence in Atlanta was an act of hate,” and San Francisco police tweeted #StopAsianHate. The New York City police counterterrorism unit said it was on alert for similar attacks.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 17: Pedestrians cross the street by a San Francisco police car where an officer is standing guard in Chinatown on March 17, 2021 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco police have stepped up patrols in Asian neighborhoods in the wake of a series of shootings at spas in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six Asian women. The main suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been taken into custody. The San Francisco Bay Area is also seeing an increase in violence against the Asian community. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
San Francisco police have stepped up patrols in Asian neighborhoods in the wake of the shootings. Source: Getty

In Georgia, Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said in a video on Facebook that his deputies and state troopers were notified Tuesday night that a murder suspect out of north Georgia was headed their way. Deputies and troopers set up along the interstate and “made contact with the suspect,” he said.

A state trooper performed a pursuit intervention technique that “caused the vehicle to spin out of control,” Hancock said. Long was then taken into custody “without incident.”

Rita Barron, manager of a business neighbouring the massage parlour targeted in the first shooting, said security footage of the parking lot outside the stores showed the gunman had been sitting in his car for about an hour, just watching.

Nico Straughan, 21, who went to school with Long, described him as “super nice, super Christian, very quiet” and said Long brought a Bible to high school every day and would walk around carrying it.

“He went from one of the nicest kids I ever knew in high school to being on the news yesterday,” Straughan said.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has said its diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed with police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent. It said its consulate general in Atlanta is trying to confirm the nationality of the women.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in South Korea meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, mentioned the killings during an opening statement.

“We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere,” he said.

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