Atlanta spa shooting: were Georgia attack victims Asian, what happened – and who is suspect Robert Aaron Long?

The USA has been rocked by another attack on Asian Americans, with a white man charged with eight counts of murder

The suspect arrested in connection with this week’s Atlanta shootings which left eight people dead at three massage parlours in Atlanta and its suburbs has been charged with murder.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with eight counts of murder after allegedly opening fire at the massage parlours.

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Here is everything you need to know about the incident.

Law enforcement personnel utside a massage parlour where a person was shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia on 16 March 2021 (Photo: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

What happened?

The first attack began around 5pm local time (9pm GMT) on Tuesday 16 March at Youngs Asian Massage Parlour in the small city of Acworth, about 30 miles north of Atlanta.

Two people died at the scene, with a further three casualties transported to a nearby hospital, where two of them also died.

Almost an hour later, police responding to reports of a robbery in progress in the Buckhead neighbourhood of Atlanta found three women dead from gunshot wounds at Gold Spa, another massage parlour.

A police officer outside the Gold Spa massage parlour where three people were shot and killed on 16 March 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

As they attended the scene, they received another report of shots fired at Aromatherapy Spa, located just across the street.

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Responding to that second call, authorities found a woman who appeared to have been shot dead inside the business.

What is the reasoning behind the attacks?

Shortly after the attacks, Atlanta police said it was too soon to ascribe motive to Tuesday’s shooting, though the majority of the attacks’ victims were of Asian descent.

“It appears that they may be Asian,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said, while South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its diplomats in Atlanta confirmed from police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent.

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Police have not yet confirmed whether Tuesday’s attack was racially motivated.

Attacks on Asian-American citizens have become more regular in recent months, with misinformation around the origins of the coronavirus pandemic often attributed the blame.

Several high-profile incidents – including a video showing a fatal attack on an 84-year-old Thai immigrant in San Francisco – have brought the issue to the forefront in the US.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney N. Bryant declined to say whether police believe the shootings amounted to a hate crime, telling reporters, “We can’t make that determination just yet.”

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Has anyone been arrested?

A suspect – Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, around 30 miles north of Atlanta – was seen in CCTV footage pulling up to the Youngs Asian Massage Parlour business around 4.50pm.

He was later taken into custody in Crisp County, 150 miles south of Atlanta. He has since been charged with eight counts of murder after allegedly opening fire at the three massage parlours.

According to a Facebook video posted by Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock, state troopers were notified around 8pm that a murder suspect was heading towards their county.

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Troopers “made contact" with the suspect around 8.30pm, with one performing a pursuit intervention technique (PIT) manoeuvre, “which caused the vehicle to spin out of control,” Hancock said.

Long was then taken into custody “without incident".

Who is Robert Aaron Long?

Police said Long, who is white, told them he had a “sexual addiction”.

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He's been described as “sorta nerdy” and “big into religion” by a student who graduated from Sequoyah High in 2017, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Daily Beast.

“He was very innocent seeming and wouldn’t even cuss,” they said. “He was sorta nerdy and didn’t seem violent from what I remember. He was a hunter and his father was a youth minister or pastor. He was big into religion.”

An Instagram account that appears to belong to Long carries the bio: “Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life.”

Why are attacks against Asian Americans rising?

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Earlier this month, advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate said it received more than 2,800 reports of hate incidents involving Asians in America last year, with activists saying the attacks are often linked to rhetoric blaming victims for the spread of Covid-19.

Donald Trump was criticised for repeatedly referring to the “Chinese virus”, including telling followers he was “very thankful” for Boris Johnson’s “friendship and support” as he recovered from “the China Virus.”

In a prime time address to the nation to mark a year since the health crisis was declared a pandemic, President Joe Biden said Asian Americans have been subjected to “vicious hate crimes” and have been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated”.

He added: “They are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong, it’s un-American and it must stop.”

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In the UK, Baroness Doreen Lawrence – who was commissioned to lead the review into how Covid-19 was affecting BAME communities – said in October 2020, that BAME workers have experienced “disgraceful racism”, fuelled in part by global leaders calling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus”.

If no immediate action is taken more people will “unnecessarily die”, she warned, adding that a pattern of injustice may continue beyond the pandemic.

Baroness Lawrence made immediate and long-term recommendations to protect those most at risk from the virus and to reduce societal inequalities, including calls for the Government to outline a plan to tackle the rise in hate crime and scapegoating.