Police say it is too early to determine if the suspect in the shootings at spas in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, was motivated by race.
At a press conference on Wednesday, police said the suspect told officials he has sex addiction issues and targeted the spas because he wanted to “take out that temptation.”
Police said Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old white male suspect, told them race was not a motive, but added they are still investigating. However, the businesses he targeted are marketed as Asian or otherwise international spas advertising majority female and Asian employees.
"He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places and it's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate," Capt. Jay Baker said.
"We believe that he frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out," Sheriff Frank Reynolds said.
The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office first responded to reports of a robbery at Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, an Atlanta suburb, around 4:55 p.m. on Tuesday, where they found multiple gunshot victims. Four people died in that shooting — two were Asian, and two were white — and a Hispanic man was injured, officials say.
At 5:47 p.m., Atlanta police responded to reports of a robbery at Gold Spa in northeast Atlanta, where they found three Asian women dead with gunshot wounds. While at the scene, police received another call about an incident at Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where they found another Asian woman who had been shot.
"At that time, we recognized that we had had information previously put out by Cherokee County that they had a similar incident in their jurisdiction," authorities said.
Authorities released two calls made to 911 regarding the incident. In one, a woman says she is hiding in one of the spas: "Hurry ... We need to hide right now ... They have a gun," she says.
In another, a woman not at one of the spa says her friends at one of the businesses told her about the shooting. "I'm not there yet but some guy came in and took the gun so everybody heard the gunshots and some ladies got hurt, I think," she says. "Everybody's scared so they're hiding. The lady's passed out."
The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office identified a suspect from video footage from the Acworth massage parlor and shared an image of the suspect on social media.
Officials said they were then contacted by the suspect's family members, who indicated that the suspect "may be their son."
The suspect was apprehended several hours after the shootings when police tracked him and initiated a traffic stop.
Police believe that the suspect was on his way to Florida, "perhaps to carry out additional shootings," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. "The public as a whole should be grateful that this suspect was quickly apprehended because it's very likely that there would have been more victims yesterday."
Baker said investigators told him that the suspect took responsibility and “understood the gravity of what he did.”
“He was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Baker added.
All but one of the victims were women.
The victims in the Acworth shooting have been identified by the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office as Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; and Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta.
Police have not identified the four others who were killed in the Atlanta shootings.
A spokesperson with the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Atlanta told BuzzFeed News that four of the victims are of Korean descent, though their nationality has not yet been determined.
"We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere," Tony Blinken, the US secretary of state who is on a scheduled visit to Seoul, said Wednesday. "We will stand up for the right of our fellow Americans and Korean Americans to be safe and to be treated with dignity."
The suspect has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, the sheriff's office said in a statement. He is being held without bond. Later Wednesday, Atlanta police said he had been charged with four additional counts of murder, bringing the total to eight.
The shootings occurred amid a spate of increased hate incidents against Asian Americans, according to a new report from Stop AAPI Hate.
In a statement Wednesday morning, the Atlanta chapter of nonprofit group Asian Americans Advancing Justice noted that while the investigation into the shootings is still underway, "the broader context cannot be ignored," citing the uptick in violence against Asians across the country.
"We are heartbroken by these acts of violence. Six Asian women lost their lives," said Stephanie Cho, the executive director of AAAJ-Atlanta. "Now is the time to hold the victims and their families in our hearts and in our light. We’re calling on our allies across communities of color to stand with us in grief and solidarity against racist violence in all its forms."