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Eight killed, including six Asian women, in Atlanta-area spa shootings; suspect arrested after manhunt

Eight people, including six Asian women, were fatally shot at three Atlanta-area spas on March 16. Police have arrested Robert Aaron Long as the suspect. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Shootings at three Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday left eight people dead, including six Asian women, spurring concern among advocates and police that the killings could be the latest in a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans.

Police arrested Robert Aaron Long, 21, after a brief manhunt and said he is the suspect in all three shootings.

Authorities said they do not yet know of a motive in the killings, which left four women — all of Asian descent — dead inside two businesses across the street from each other in Atlanta; another four people, including two Asian women, were killed and a person was wounded at a spa in nearby Cherokee County.

The violence stoked fears in a community already reeling from attacks and racist targeting, and left police nationwide mobilizing to add protections for Asian Americans.

“Right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed,” tweeted the group Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said at a news conference that investigators are working to determine a motive and that “nothing’s going to be ruled out.” The FBI is working on the case with local authorities, officials said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said early Wednesday that President Biden was “briefed overnight about the horrific shootings.” White House officials, she said, have been in touch with the mayor’s office in Atlanta and the FBI.

A Justice Department official said the attorney general has been briefed on the shootings. Speaking in South Korea, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “horrified,” and vowed that the U.S. would “stand up for the rights of all Americans.”

The New York Police Department’s counterterrorism unit tweeted that it was “monitoring the shooting of Asian Americans in Georgia” and that it would deploy “to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution.” Seattle’s mayor and chief of police said the city would also take “additional steps to protect our Asian American neighbors,” including additional patrols.

Asian Americans stunned by shootings as advocates demand action: ‘Everyone has heard enough words’

The killings began just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, authorities said, when surveillance video showed a man in a navy and red hoodie near 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 on 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 suspect 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 spotted a 2007 black Hyundai Tucson on the highway, and a trooper performed a tactical “PIT” maneuver, or pursuit intervention technique, 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.

“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” tweeted Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who praised the “quick apprehension of a suspect.” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) condemned the violence on Wednesday, saying that “a crime against any community is a crime against us all.”

The killings come as Asian American hate crimes have spiked across the U.S. 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.

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

Fears of anti-Asian violence rattle the community: ‘Nobody came, nobody helped’

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.”

Few details were available on Long, the suspect in the case. His family lives in a one-story, three-bedroom house in Woodstock, a middle-class, majority White suburb about 30 miles north of downtown Atlanta.

“They come across as a good Christian family,” Mary Morgan, 88, who lives across the street, told The Washington Post. “They used to go to church on a regular basis, and I’ve never seen anything bad out of them.”

Chafee said police and Cherokee County officials were in contact as the investigation into Long continues, and Atlanta officers have been dispatched to other spas in the area as a precaution.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said the department has located witnesses who were in and near the spas, and no one else at either location was reported wounded.

Post editorial: The surge of attacks against Asian Americans requires attention and swift solutions

Lisa Copeland, the manager of an AutoZone Auto Parts a few stores down from Young’s Asian Massage, said she almost went into the smoke shop next door to the salon at the time of the shooting. But at the last minute, she decided against it.

As she sat in her car later, she noticed police vehicles and ambulances arriving at the salon. “It was complete chaos,” she said. “I was racking my brain to ask, ‘Did I see that car drive down there?’”

Jacob Kimmons, an employee at AutoZone, said this kind of violence rarely happens in the neighborhood.

“You never see it in a decent area like this. Just to see something like that happen is crazy,” he said. “I just thank the good lord he didn’t come over here and do anything.”

Min Joo Kim in Seoul and Matt Zapotosky in Washington contributed to this story.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that surveillance video showed a man in a hoodie entering Young’s Asian Massage just before 5 p.m., citing authorities. Authorities posted images showing the man near the business, but did not provide video. Video subsequently obtained by The Post shows that the spa shootings suspect entered Young’s Asian Massage more than an hour before gunfire was reported.