Atlanta police said Thursday that the suspect in this week’s deadly spa shootings frequented the two businesses targeted in the city. But they refrained from discussing potential motives and said they are still investigating.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with eight counts of murder and homicide and one count of aggravated assault in attacks at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, most of them Asian women. Atlanta police have yet to publicly identify four victims, saying they are having difficulty notifying next of kin.
Here’s what to know:
Rep. Chip Roy’s (R-Tex.) comments during a House Judiciary panel — defending the right to criticize China and seeming to celebrate lynchings —sparked an emotional outcry, as members battled along partisan lines over the extent of the threats facing Asian Americans and whether Republicans were partly to blame.
President Biden and Vice President Harris will meet Friday with Asian American leaders in Atlanta, part of broader outreach efforts after the killings. But many Asian Americans say they remain frustrated by a lack of representation.
Long’s first court appearance was abruptly canceled Thursday morning after he waived it in writing through his attorney, according to the Cherokee County district attorney’s office.
The past year had been momentous for Delaina Yaun, who gave birth to her second child and then got married. She was fatally shot at Young’s Asian Massage.
The sheriff’s captain who said Long was having a “bad day” when he allegedly fatally shot eight people on Tuesday will no longer be a spokesman on the case following a backlash.
The shooting deaths of eight people at Asian-run spas in Georgia this week triggered a vigorous national debate Thursday over whether the mass killing amounted to a hate crime, a fraught conversation that echoed from the halls of Congress to the streets of Atlanta, with potentially significant implications for the prosecution of the 21-year-old suspect.
The reckoning came a day after authorities in Cherokee County — the first of two locations where people were shot dead Tuesday — appeared to play down the racial dimensions of a rampage that claimed the lives of six women of Asian descent. A sheriff’s office spokesman had said that the suspect was having “a bad day” and indicated that “sex addiction,” not race, was probably the driving factor.
Those remarks were sharply challenged on Thursday by Asian American community leaders, who denounced them as “an attempt to protect the shooter,” as well as by Democratic politicians and law enforcement experts.
Days after they were gunned down at the Atlanta-area massage spas where they worked, the names of four victims of Korean descent remained unknown and details about an ethnic Chinese victim were scarce, leaving their lives and their stigmatized industry wreathed in mystery.
All told, eight people died in the shootings Tuesday at three spas in Atlanta and neighboring Cherokee County. But while the four who died in Cherokee County have been identified, Atlanta authorities said Thursday they were still unable to release the names of the four women, all Korean, killed at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa in the city’s Piedmont Heights neighborhood.
All four victims were older, with two in their 70s, one in her 60s and another in her 50s, according to members of the local Korean American community and workers at nearby businesses. Three worked at Gold Spa and the fourth at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street.
President Biden has refocused his trip to Georgia on Friday so he can meet with Asian American leaders about violence against their community. He has ordered flags flown at half-staff after the shooting that killed six Atlanta-area women of Asian descent. His administration is backing a bill that allows the Justice Department to review coronavirus-related hate crimes.
And White House officials have spent two days working the phones, reaching out to leaders and advocates in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and reaffirming their commitment to fighting anti-Asian hatred.
“What I’m conveying to them is, we want you to be a part of the solution,” White House senior adviser Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) said in an interview. “You all have been in the community running these programs. We want your expertise, we want your input into how we get past this. But it’s also been an intensive two days of making sure that we’re listening.”
It’s inevitable that reporters will have to rely heavily on law enforcement sources in the first hours after a horrific crime. Amid chaos and wild speculation, the police may be the only ones with any hard information at that point.
But sometimes their information is flawed. And sometimes the way they tell it reflects a damaging bias.
And so it was on Wednesday when Jay Baker, a captain with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, described the motivations of the man accused of killing eight people, six of them Asian women, at spas in the Atlanta area.
Thursday would have been Xiaojie Tan’s 50th birthday.
Instead, Tan, of Kennesaw, Ga., was remembered by her friends who left flowers at her business, Young’s Asian Massage, the scene of a shooting that killed her and three others at the Cherokee County spa.
Tan, or Emily as she was known by friends, was dedicated to her job and her daughter, a recent graduate from the University of Georgia, said friend and customer Greg Hynson, 54.
Hynson said they met six years ago and became friends. Tan, whose family is from China, sometimes hosted Lunar New Year and Fourth of July parties with food and fireworks at her spa, Hynson said.
“She was a very good friend, a kind, sweet person,” Hynson said.
Hynson said Tan’s business was unfairly stigmatized by some who associated her store with sex work.
“She was absolutely professional,” he said. “She cared about her job, she cared about her customers, she cared about her friends and family.”
After he heard about the shooting, Hynson rushed to the scene, shocked to see police cars.
“I can’t wrap my mind around it,” he said. “The kindest, sweetest people, gone. For what?”
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Victim in spa shooting had gotten married, gave birth last year
Delaina Yaun had Tuesday afternoon off, so she and her husband decided to treat themselves. They booked couples massages at Young’s Asian Massage, a storefront spa in Cherokee County, and went in for a relaxing rub.
They were in separate rooms when the gunman entered the business and started shooting, according to DeLayne Davis, a relative.
Yaun was killed. Her husband escaped.
“They were just taking an afternoon together,” Davis said. “It was the first time they’d ever been to that place.”
The past year had been momentous for Yaun, 33. Over the summer, she gave birth to her second child, a daughter. Shortly after, she and her husband, Mario Gonzalez, were wed in a small ceremony in Ringgold, Ga.
“Her dreams were finally coming true. Things were falling into place with her,” said Lisa Marie, Yaun’s longtime friend. “It was good to see her happiness.”
Friends and relatives said Yaun put her family above all else. When a divorce upended her sister’s family a couple years ago, Yaun took in two of her sister’s preteen children to live in her home.
She was close with her mother, who lived with her as well. Marie remembered getting misty-eyed seeing the two of them dance to Boyz II Men at her wedding.
“They were inseparable,” she said.
Yaun was also a doting mother to her 13-year-old boy, cheering him on at his track meets, and she liked to organize trips to Six Flags with her children, friends’ kids, and her nieces and nephews.
“She threw all the best parties for the kids. Nobody would get left out,” Davis said. “She opened her home to everybody.”
When she wasn’t with family, Yaun worked hard, covering the third shift at a local Waffle House to support her family. She’d been a server at the restaurant chain since 2013 and was recently cross-trained as a grill operator, Waffle House said in a statement.
Her Facebook page was sprinkled with pictures of her wedding and her children, along with loving messages from her husband.
“It’s you who occupies all of my heart,” he wrote in one of their last exchanges.
“Thank you, my love,” she replied. “You and me."
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Asian spa workers were already vulnerable to abuse
Tuesday’s deadly mass shooting in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, was the “peak of everything that we have feared actually coming to fruition,” said Bianca Jyotishi, a Georgia organizer for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, an advocacy group that focuses on racial and gender justice.
“Our safe spaces just really have been violated.”
The Atlanta attack on three Asian spas rattled Asians and Asian Americans across the country, many of whom had already been fearful of increased attacks on their community.
By the time he was captured, Robert Aaron Long was the subject of nationwide horror about the murder of eight people — six of them Asian women. Many Americans were already on edge before Tuesday’s news; the country remained in the throes of social upheaval resulting from police killings of Black Americans and attacks on Asian Americans that surged after President Donald Trump took to calling the coronavirus the “China virus” or “kung flu.”
Tuesday’s attacks instantly unleashed a gut-wrenching collective anxiety — was this another outburst of racial hatred?
Long’s journey from membership in a religious social club at his suburban high school to a murderous rampage, ostensibly driven by his addiction to sex, remains fuzzy. What is already clear is that this latest in a seemingly never-ending series of mass shootings hit the country where it hurt most — in its anguished struggles over race, sex and the allure of gun violence.
The sheriff’s captain who said Long was having a “bad day” when he allegedly fatally shot eight people on Tuesday will no longer be a spokesman on the case, a sheriff’s official said Thursday.
At a news conference the day after the Atlanta-area shootings, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker described the 21-year-old suspect as “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
The comments triggered a backlash and resignation calls that only intensified as people found past social media posts by Baker promoting a shirt that called covid-19 an “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”
Andrea DeCourcey, an executive assistant for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday that Baker will no longer provide public updates on the shootings but that she did not know why or how the decision was made. Neither Sheriff Frank Reynolds nor Baker immediately responded to requests for comment from The Washington Post.
Earlier in the afternoon, the sheriff’s office released a letter in which Reynolds acknowledged that Baker’s comments had “become the subject of much debate and anger.”
“In as much as his words were taken or construed as insensitive or inappropriate, they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or respect for the suspect,” Reynolds wrote.
Baker had a “difficult task before him” in the wake of the shootings, Reynolds added, praising the captain’s work and saying he had “personal ties to the Asian community.”
WSB-TV reporter Nicole Carr reported that Reynolds said that Baker’s future with the sheriff’s office is under evaluation and that the office is consulting with the district attorney about potentially handing over its part of the case to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI and prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Post.
Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.
Perspective: Why the Atlanta killings aren’t just about one thing
Here is how local law enforcement on Tuesday bafflingly explained its thinking about the Atlanta-area shooting suspect who had confessed to killing eight people, including six Asian women, at three local spas: “He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction,” a captain from Cherokee County said at a Wednesday news conference. It was too early to tell, officers said, if the incident was a “hate crime.”
Here is what Christine Liwag Dixon, a Filipino American writer and musician, thought about after she heard that clip. She thought about how she was once offered money for a “happy-ending massage,” even though she is not a massage therapist and never has been. She thought about all the men who have told her they’re “into Asian women” and expected her to take it as a compliment. She thought about the time she went outside to call an Uber while her husband paid a restaurant bill and a group of men cornered her, one of them chanting “Me love you long time” while standing so close she could feel his breath on her neck.
She thought about how most Asian American women probably have a similar library of terrifying experiences. “To be hypersexualized,” she said in an interview. “To be treated as an object of sexual desire.” Of course the shootings were racially motivated, she thought. Of course they were motivated by gender. They were both.
Atlanta police onThursday refrained from discussing details of the alleged gunman’s potential motives in this week’s deadly spa shootings, a day after a sheriff official’s comments about the suspect’s “bad day” drew a fierce backlash.
Speaking at a brief news conference, Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said only that “we are looking at everything.” He said that the Atlanta police department’s investigation is “separate” from the that of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.
Atlanta police have yet to release the identities of four Asian women killed at two spas in Atlanta, in contrast to the sheriff’s office, which has named the five people shot at a spa in its jurisdiction.
The sheriff’s office officials also described the 21-year-old suspect’s statements at a Wednesday news conference: Robert Aaron Long may have visited the spas before, claimed to have a “sexual addiction” and said he set out to eliminate a “temptation,” they said.
“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker said, words that were quickly criticized as downplaying the violence that has stoked fears in the Asian American community.
Asked Thursday about Baker’s comments, Hampton said he does not have a position and would only comment on Atlanta’s investigation.
Explaining the delays in sharing information, he said that police have victims’ families in mind.
“We try to remember that eight families are impacted by this and we wouldn’t be doing justice by putting a lot of this information out in public,” Hampton said.
Atlanta police still unable to release names of four victims
Authorities are still unable to release the names of four of the eight victims in this week’s spa shootings, Atlanta police said in a brief news conference Thursday.
Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said the department was not prepared to publicly identify the remaining victims because police were having difficulty notifying next of kin and are working with the Korean Consulate on those efforts.
“As soon as we are 100 percent and notifications are made, then it’ll be released,” Hampton said toward the end of the eight-minute news conference.
The deputy chief would not comment on a question about the victims’ citizenship status or whether they had family in the area or country. He noted that Atlanta police were patient in making sure the victims’ loved ones were first notified.
“We just want to make sure we do our due diligence,” Hampton said.
Cherokee County authorities released the names of four of the victims Wednesday: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; and Paul Andre Michels, 54. A fifth victim in Cherokee County, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, survived.
GOP lawmaker refers to lynching during anti-Asian violence hearing: ‘Find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree’
As a House panel convened Thursday for the first hearing on anti-Asian discrimination in decades, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) argued that while he believed the session aimed to police free speech, “all Americans deserve protection” in the days after the Atlanta-area spa shootings. To make his point, Roy invoked “old sayings in Texas” that celebrated lynchings.
“We believe in justice. There’s old sayings in Texas about ‘find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree,’” he said before the House Judiciary Committee. “You know, we take justice very seriously, and we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That’s what we believe.”
Roy’s comments drew blowback from Democrats and critics who slammed the congressman for violent rhetoric two days after eight people were killed in a tragedy that has heightened concerns around the surge in attacks against Asian Americans.
Atlanta shooter’s ex-roommate describes him as guilt-ridden about pornography and his spa visits
By Jonathan Krohn
Tyler Bayless said he lived with Robert Aaron Long, the man charged with murder in Tuesday’s fatal shootings at three Atlanta area spas, for five months during 2019 and 2020 at Maverick Recovery, a sober-living facility in Roswell, Ga. Bayless was trying to recover from an alcohol and drug addiction, and Long was there for what Bayless called “sex addiction.”
“He was militant about it,” Bayless said. “This was the kind of guy who would hate himself for masturbating, would consider that a relapse.”
Long blamed his descent into “sex addiction” on pornography. Bayless said Long would say he thought pornography was exploitative of men who viewed it. “He hated the pornography industry. He did. He was pretty passionate about what a bad influence it was,” Bayless said. “He felt exploited by it, taken advantage of by it.”
Long’s parents told police similar things, and said their son had visited massage parlors and “sees them as an outlet for him, something that he shouldn’t be doing — an issue with porn,” said Capt. Jay Baker, the spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office.
To try to avoid any further viewing of pornography, Long made sure he severely limited his own Internet usage, Bayless said. Long didn’t own a smartphone. He had a computer but deleted his Facebook account because, Bayless said, he found it made it too easy for him to find pornography.
“He had a flip phone because he didn’t want to be able to get online,” Bayless said. “He had a computer that had all the blocks in the world on it.”
Long told Bayless that he had been seeing a young woman and his alleged “sex addiction” — in particular his frequenting of spas — had ended his relationship.
Residents at Maverick were encouraged to hold each other accountable, Bayless said, and at least three times Long called Bayless into his room so he could confess his sins. Sometimes he told Long he had sex, Bayless said, while other times he said he was “masturbated by” the sex workers. Bayless said Long felt his very salvation was at stake, as he told his roommate that he was “living in sin” and “not walking in the light; he was walking in darkness.”
Bayless recalled Long often saying he was “in the world but not of the world.” One time, Long came back from a massage parlor and called him into his room saying he was having suicidal thoughts, Bayless said.
After Maverick, Long transferred to an intensive inpatient addiction facility, HopeQuest, which teaches addiction from an evangelical Christian perspective. Bayless said that he urged Long to seek psychiatric or psychological counseling, but he refused. “He was uninterested in therapy that was not specifically related to the church,” Bayless said. “He was not interested in seeking professional help outside the realm of spiritual counseling.