In a mass shooting on Mar. 16, Robert Aaron Long targeted three spas, killing eight people and injuring one. Of the eight fatally-shot victims, six were Asian-American women. On Wednesday, Mar. 17, police charged Long, 21, with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. The shooting spree began right before 5 PM in Acworth, GA, a culturally diverse community near the city of Atlanta.
Long fatally shot four victims at Young’s Asian Massage: Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzales, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Tan, who emigrated from China years ago and resided in neighboring Kennesaw, was a licensed massage therapist and the owner of the establishment. Gonzales, a resident of Acworth, was the mother of a 14-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter. Michels was an army veteran and Atlanta business owner, looking to expand into the massage business. Two victims died at the scene, while three others were injured and brought to the hospital by the police, where two of the three passed away. The sole surviving victim, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, is a 30-year-old mechanic who immigrated from Guatemala ten years ago. Hernandez-Ortiz’s wife shared, “He’s still alive, he’s fighting for his life, but the doctors told me that he will have a long recovery after he leaves the hospital.” She reflected on the tragedy, stating, “Many others died, and my heart breaks for them.”
Long then targeted Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa in northeastern Atlanta, where the police found four more victims: Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63. Grant was a Korean immigrant who worked at Gold Spa, while raising her son Randy Park, 23, who will now have to parent his brother alone. The 23-year-old spoke fondly of his mother, stating that as a single parent she “dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I,” adding that she was his friend.
Long’s parents contacted the police department after identifying their son through video surveillance caught outside of Young’s Asian Massage that the police shared on social media. About two hours after the shooting, the police spotted Long’s car on an interstate in County Crisp, three hours outside Atlanta. The alleged domestic terrorist was found with a 9 millimeter handgun, which he legally bought the day of the shooting from Big Woods Goods. Federal agents joined the investigation on Mar. 17.
Investigators reported that Long had spoken to friends about frequenting massage parlors, even telling officers while in custody that he had a “sexual addiction.” Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, a department spokesperson, reported that “[Long] was attempting to take out that temptation.” Long stated that his crime did not target the Asian community; however, investigators did not rule out bigotry as a motive since nearly all of the victims were of Asian descent. Baker went on to say that “[Long] 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.” The resulting backlash to Baker’s statement was heightened by the discovery of prejudiced photos on Baker’s social media. Specifically, Baker had posted photos of a shirt with the text “Covid 19, IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA,” blaming the Asian community for the virus. The Georgia Sheriff’s Office removed Baker from the case on Thursday, Mar. 18.
A national report on AAPI hate, released on Mar. 16, revealed that in the last year there were 3,795 reported attacks targeting the Asian-American community, with a disproportionate number targeting women. In the last year, anti-Asian hate crimes surged 149 percent.
In a statement, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms declared that “a crime against any community is a crime against us all.” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called the tragedy in Atlanta “an act of hate.” On a visit to South Korea this week, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke out against the violence, expressing, “We will stand up for the right of our fellow Americans and Korean Americans to be safe and to be treated with dignity.”
(Sources: NY Times, CNN, NY Magazine, Times, Stop AAPI Hate National Report, NBC, Washington Post, Anti-Asian Hate Crime Reported to Police in America’s Largest Cities: 2020, NPR)
Photo courtesy Wall Street Journal