A man accused of killing eight people in three shootings at Atlanta-area spas told investigators he had a sexual addiction and saw the businesses as a temptation that he needed to eliminate, officials said Wednesday.
Those details, which emerged during a morning news conference with Atlanta’s mayor and other top officials, offered the first glimpse of what may have motivated Robert Aaron Long, 21, to go on a two-county shooting spree Tuesday evening.
The attacks began around 5 p.m. Tuesday, when four people were killed near Acworth in Cherokee County, authorities said. Less than an hour later, four women were killed in two shootings in Atlanta in Fulton County.
It’s unclear if the businesses had any ties to sex work.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the spas were “legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar,” and “we are not about to get into victim blaming, victim shaming here.”
“Yesterday was a tragic day across our state,” Bottoms said. “A crime against any community is a crime against us all.”
The victims in Atlanta were Asian women, as were two of the victims in Acworth, officials said. The two other victims were white, and one man who was injured was stable.
The sheriff’s office identified the Cherokee County victims as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44.
Feng’s address was unknown. The man who was injured was identified as Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth.
Authorities arrested Long, 21, of Woodstock, after a brief manhunt, Cherokee County sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said.
He was arrested in Crisp County, about 125 miles south of Atlanta, and extradited later to Cherokee County, officials said.
Long was charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in Cherokee County and has no bond. He is set to be arraigned Thursday morning.
The FBI was “assisting the local investigations,” the agency said early Wednesday.
The killings come amid a growing number of anti-Asian hate incidents. Research released through Stop AAPI Hate on Tuesday revealed that nearly 3,800 incidents were reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic and that a disproportionate number of attacks were directed at women.
But the attacks did not appear to be motivated by race, based on what Long told investigators, officials said.
“We are still early in this investigation so we can not make that determination at this moment,” said Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant.
Baker said Wednesday that the suspect likely acted alone.
“These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him, something he shouldn’t be doing,” he said, adding that Long indicated he had an “issue with porn” and was “attempting to take out that temptation.”
“He was fed up, at the end of his rope,” Baker said. “He had a bad day, and this is what he did.”
Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds added Long “may have frequented some of these places in the past” and “might have been lashing out.”
Officials said the suspect told investigators he was on his way to Florida, perhaps to target more spa-like businesses when he was captured.
“The public as a whole should be grateful that this suspect was quickly apprehended because it’s very likely that there may have been more victims,” Bottoms said Wednesday.
The Cherokee County sheriff’s office was contacted by Long’s family after releasing photos of the suspect. They helped police track his phone and eventually help the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office to catch up with him.
A 9mm firearm was found in the car he was driving, police said.
The gun was purchased legally on Tuesday, prior to the shooting, two senior law enforcement officials briefed on the matter told NBC News.
Long graduated from Sequoyah High School in Cherokee County in 2017, according to a district official.
Nico Straughan, 21, who went to school with Long, told The Associated Press he was “super nice, super Christian, very quiet” and said that in high school Long brought a Bible to school every day and would walk around with it in his hands.
“He went from one of the nicest kids I ever knew in high school to being on the news yesterday,” Straughan said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden was briefed “overnight about the horrific shootings in Atlanta” and would be briefed again by Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray Wednesday morning.
“White House officials have been in touch with the mayor’s office and will remain in touch with the FBI,” Psaki said.
“Our prayers are extended to the families of those who have been killed,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday.
“We’re not clear yet on the motive, but I do want to say, to our Asian America community that we stand with you,” Harris said. “Knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any kind of hate.”
South Korea’s foreign ministry told NBC News that four of the women who died were of Korean origin, but their nationalities have yet to be verified.
During a visit to South Korea, Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the shootings, and said that this type of violence had no place in America or anywhere.
“We will stand up for the right of our fellow Americans and Korean Americans to be safe and to be treated with dignity,” he said.
Because the shootings were all at spas, Atlanta police said officers were dispatched to similar businesses, and that patrols were increased.