Atlanta Shooting Suspect Denies Racist Motive
A 21-year-old gunman with a “sex addiction” has taken responsibility for killing eight people in spas around the US city of Atlanta, but denied a racial motive to the attacks that have shaken the country’s Asian community, police said Wednesday.
Six of the victims of Tuesday night’s killings were of Asian origin, exacerbating concerns over a surge in violence targeting the community during the pandemic.
Authorities however stressed they had not determined the motive of the shooter, identified as Robert Aaron Long, a white man who is believed to have acted alone.
“The suspect did take responsibility for the shootings,” Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office told a news conference.
“This is still early, but he does claim it was not racially motivated,” Baker added.
“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as… a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
Authorities arrested Long after tracking his phone following a brief pursuit about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Atlanta, officials said.
After he was detained, “he made a comment… that he was headed to Florida and that he was going to do similar acts in that state,” Baker said, adding that Long wanted to target “some type of porn industry.”
President Joe Biden said violence against Asian-Americans is “very troublesome.”
“I know that Asian Americans are very concerned,” Biden said, though he stressed any motive had “yet to be determined.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the shootings as “a vicious and vile act that compounds the fear and pain that Asian-Americans face each day.”
Violence in the US
Tuesday’s rampage began with an attack at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, an Atlanta suburb, where four of the victims were killed and a man was wounded.
Police said four women were subsequently killed in attacks on two neighboring spas in the northeast of Atlanta.
In the inital attack, the sheriff’s department has charged Long with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, US media reported.
Officials did not immediately announce charges related to the attacks at the two spas.
Vice President Kamala Harris said the latest mass shootings spoke “to a larger issue which is violence in our country.”
Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said Acworth, a normally quiet commuter community, had experienced few murders and Tuesday’s violence was “a shock to all of us.”
Adriana Mejia, niece of the wounded victim in the Acworth attack, said the family was “devastated” after her uncle was shot and that they were praying for his recovery.
“We never know when we’re at the wrong place at the wrong time because this was so all of a sudden,” she said.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported the country’s foreign ministry had confirmed that four of the victims were of Korean descent.
The shootings come as reports of attacks against Asian-Americans, primarily elders, have spiked in recent months — fueled during the Covid-19 pandemic, activists believe, by talk of the “Chinese virus” by former president Donald Trump and others.
“It shocks the conscience,” Sam Park, a local representative of the Asian-American community, told AFP in Atlanta.
“We have lost so many lives this past year. We have seen racism and discrimination and a surge of violence against Asian-Americans who are scapegoated because of the pandemic.”
Former President Barack Obama said on Twitter that while the shooter’s motive was not yet clear, “the identity of the victims underscores an alarming rise in anti-Asian violence that must end.”
News of the shootings came just hours after the release of a report by the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate suggested a marked increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans — with women disproportionately affected.
In a tally of incidents reported to the group between March 2020 and February this year, almost 70 percent of Asian-American survey respondents said they had faced verbal harassment and just over one in 10 said they had experienced physical assault.
The state of Georgia, which has Atlanta as its capital, is home to nearly 500,000 people of Asian origin, or just over four percent of its population, according to the Asian American Advocacy Fund.
Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock condemned the violence in a tweet late Tuesday.
“My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives,” he said.
“Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community.”
The Democratic party in the state called Tuesday’s shooting spree “horrifying.”
“As details continue to emerge, this attack sadly follows the unacceptable pattern of violence against Asian-Americans that has skyrocketed throughout this pandemic,” said Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who is also the state party’s chairwoman.
In an address to the nation last Thursday Biden condemned what he called “vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”
“It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop,” he said.