ATLANTA — More details emerged Friday about the eight victims who were shot at three massage parlors in Georgia, along with new information about the suspect in the string of attacks that left mostly women of Asian descent dead.
The four victims who were killed at two spas in Atlanta were identified Friday by the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office: Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63.
Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said they still need to determine the motive, but that it was too soon to say whether the suspect "specifically targeted" victims. Authorities said Wednesday that Robert Aaron Long, 21, indicated he committed the shootings because of a sex addiction, but experts say it's hard to disentangle race from the killings. Long waived his right to an initial court appearance in Cherokee County on Thursday.
In records released to USA TODAY, police say a caller reported Long had been kicked out of his parent's home the day before the shooting and was "emotional." The report also says Long was recently furloughed from his job at a trade show business due to COVID-19.
Authorities say the suspect opened fire at Young's Asian Massage in Acworth on Tuesday evening, killing four people and injuring a fifth, before driving 30 miles into Atlanta and killing four more people at two businesses, Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa. Long was arrested about 150 miles south of Atlanta. Police said he was heading to Florida and intended to carry out more shootings as spas there.
The shootings came amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States. Witnesses have only started to come to terms with the horror they experienced at the spas.
First Asian American state Senator in Georgia on anti-Asian violence: 'This is a problem that’s taking place all across the country'
More details on the latest news in the Atlanta spa shootings:
►President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Georgia state legislators and Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates to listen to their perspectives on the rise in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans. Earlier, Biden urged Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, saying the bill "would would expedite the federal government’s response to the rise of hate crimes exacerbated during the pandemic."
►House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday the House would hold a moment of silence in honor of the victims and the "assault on the AAPI community." "Long before Atlanta, we have known that this has been a challenge, really exacerbated by some of the language of the previous administration," she said.
►FBI Director Christopher Wray said in an interview with NPR that the investigation into the shootings was ongoing, but "at the moment it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated." "It's a heartbreaking incident," Wray added. "And it hits particularly close to home for me since I consider Atlanta home."
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Suspect's church disowns him after killings
The church attended by Robert Aaron Long, the suspect charged in the eight killings, condemned the attacks and said it plans to remove the 21-year-old from its membership because it “can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.”
Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, said congregants were “distraught” when they learned the alleged shooter was a member of the community, a statement from the church said. His family has belonged to the church for many years.
"We watched Aaron grow up and accepted him into church membership when he made his own profession of faith in Jesus Christ," the statement reads. "These unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel."
Footage from previous sermons that have since been deleted from online postings show Long attending services and playing percussion during a service. It also shows him in attendance for a September 2020 sermon, where pastor Jerry Dockery said, "Radical feminism has engulfed our culture like a tsunami” and that “We’re propagating what Satan wants to accomplish."
Footage of the sermon, obtained by Storyful, shows Dockery speaking about gender roles, that the role of men was to "lead" and the role of women, in scripture, was to be submissive, quiet and not "exercise authority over a man." He argued God has always been for equality and women should be partners and equals but that non-traditional roles were linked to Satan.
Roommate says suspect feared harming self, would ask for prayers
Tyler Bayless, who lived with Long at an addiction recovery facility in Roswell, Georgia, for at least six months through early 2020, described him as “a little bit socially awkward but not standoffish or quiet.” Long asked that he pray for him at least a couple of times, Bayless said, but never imposed his beliefs on others.
“He had some interesting religious beliefs, I’m sure, but he was never very overtly pushy about that sort of thing. Like he was never like, ‘I’ve got to save your soul,’” Bayless said.
Bayless recalled several occasions when Long said he lapsed and went to a massage business, prompting extreme self-loathing, guilt and public confession that he feared he might harm himself. Long once asked him to hold on to a hunting knife, Bayless added.
“He said, ‘You know, I went to one of these places. I feel like I’m falling out of God’s grace,’” Bayless said.
“I mean, this was the kind of pain that he was in because of what his religious beliefs led him to think about the acts that he was engaging in.”
Bayless also said Long tried to limit his social media use to avoid what he saw as sources of temptation to sin.
Biden on discrimination: 'Our silence is complicity'
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday condemned racism against Asian Americans, days after a shooting deaths of six Asian American women in the Atlanta area. The act of violence has rocked Asian American communities, in Georgia and across the country, already frustrated with a lack of action on a surge of pandemic-related discrimination.
Biden and Harris, the first Asian American vice president, met with Georgia state legislators and Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates to listen to their perspectives on the rise in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans.
'Our silence is complicity': Biden, Harris meet with Asian American advocates after Atlanta killings
“The conversation we had today with the AAPI leaders, and that we're hearing all across the country is that hate and violence often hide in plain sight,” Biden said during remarks after the listening session. It's often met with silence … but that has to change. Because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit.”
Harris, who introduced Biden, noted that “whatever the killer's motive,” the shooting “took place as violent hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans has risen dramatically over the last year.”
“Racism is real in America. And it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America, and always has been. Sexism, too,” she said.
Without naming former President Donald Trump, who often used racist language to describe COVID-19, Harris noted that “for the last year we've had people in positions of incredible power, scapegoating Asian Americans; people with the biggest pulpits, spreading this kind of hate.”
Suspect was kicked out of parents' house night before attack, report says
Records from the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office provide a glimpse into suspect Robert Aaron Long's life before the string of attacks that left eight people dead, including that the suspect had been furloughed from work and had been kicked out of his parent's house.
The reports chronicle calls to the Sheriff's Office after the first shooting at Young's Asian Massage before Long is accused of driving to Atlanta, where police say he killed four others at two other massage parlors.
After the Sheriff's Office released surveillance footage of the suspect, his family contacted the authorities, told them the suspect was their son and said they have a "tracker on his phone." Police used the tracking, through Long's family, to ultimately arrest him after the trio of shootings.
Soon after the call, authorities were alerted by another caller, who wasn't named in the report, that Long lives with his parents and had been "kicked out of his parents house last night." The report notes that Long was "emotional."
Later as more calls poured in, two former coworkers called to report Long as the possible suspect. One of the callers said Long had been recently furloughed from his job at a trade show company due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Atlanta victim's son: 'This is something that should never happen to anyone'
In a GoFundMe page, Randy Park, who identified Grant as his mother, said the shooting has "put a new lens on my eyes on the amount of hate that exists in our world."
Park said his mother, whose maiden name was Kim, was a single mom raising two sons in the U.S. while the rest of his family is in South Korea. "She was one of my best friends and the strongest influence on who we are today," Park wrote.
Park told the Daily Beast that his mother loved “dancing and partying.” “She would always try to convince me to go out. She loved going to clubs. She loved Tiesto. She was like a teenager,” he told the outlet.
I'm 'afraid to leave my house': Asian women are living in fear
Jennifer Chung, a Korean American living in Atlanta, said she felt "numb" when she heard the news. At least four of the victims were women of Korean descent.
"There's just been so much going on within our community all over, not just the U.S. but even the world," she said. "It's kinda morbid, but you're thinking it was just a matter of time for it to happen down the street from you."
Many Asian women are living in fear and have been long before the shootings Tuesday night that showed America the brutality of anti-Asian violence.
Experts say witnessing violence – or personally experiencing violence or harassment – can lead to trauma, which can cause a range of debilitating mental and physical health effects. For Asian women, the trauma is complex as it is often layered with racism, sexism and hyper-sexualization. Read more here.
– Sara M. Moniuszko
He was getting a back massage. Then the shooter walked in.
Marcus Lyon heard the first gunshot and bolted upright on the massage table. The woman who had just started massaging his neck looked at him and walked across the small room to open the hallway door. She dropped to the floor, blood pouring from her head.
Lyon jumped into his pants and raced out the door to his car parked outside Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, grabbing his own pistol, ready to fight off the shooter. The gunman was gone, and Lyon called 911. "I said you all need to come, people are dead.”
Lyon, a delivery driver, recounted the horrific moments a gunman who killed four people and injured one other inside the spa north of Atlanta started shooting.
“The whole time I was on the floor, I thought I was going to die," he said. "I’m just thankful I’m alive.”
– Trevor Hughes
Suspect 'frequented' Atlanta spas; authorities still investigating motive
Atlanta police confirmed Thursday that the suspect had been to the two spa locations in the city that he's accused of targeting.
"I can say that he had frequented both of those locations," deputy police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said of Gold Spa and the Aromatherapy Spa, the two spas that became crime scenes Tuesday.
Hampton said authorities are still investigating the motive and added he couldn't say whether Long "specifically targeted" victims at those locations.
Visual timeline: Here's what happened at Atlanta spa shootings
Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds previously said that Long indicated he may have frequented some of the businesses and said he had a sex addiction.
While some have been critical of police for not immediately saying the shootings were a hate crime, Hampton said Thursday, "Our investigation is looking at everything, so nothing is off the table."
'She did everything for me': Family remember shooting victim
The day before Xiaojie "Emily" Tan would have celebrated her many accomplishments — making a life in the United States, building a family, launching two businesses — a gunman broke into her business and opened fire. Tan is listed as the owner of a limited liability corporation associated with Young’s Asian Massage and another spa.
Instead, Jami Webb, 29, and her father, Michael Webb, 64, spent Tan’s birthday planning her funeral at a Catholic church.
“She did everything for me and for the family. She provided everything. She worked every day, 12 hours a day, so that me and our family would have a better life,” Jami Webb said of her mother.
Tan’s family, friends and customers described a curious, hard-working and caring woman who was always filled with joy.
Some called her by her Chinese name Xiaojie, or Jay for short. Others, knew her by her American name, Emily.
"She was full of smiles and laughter. She was just a pleasure to be around,” said Michael Webb, an American businessman who first met Tan while traveling for work in China in the early 2000s.
– Trevor Hughes and Romina Ruiz
Among the victims: A mother of 2 and an Army veteran
Delaina Ashley Yaun leaves behind a 13-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter.
Her mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV, that her daughter and son-in-law went to the spa on a date. When the shooting happened, Yaun's husband locked himself in a room and wasn't injured, said Yan's half-sister, Dana Toole.
“He’s taking it hard,” Toole said. “He was there. He heard the gunshots and everything. You can’t escape that when you’re in a room and gunshots are flying – what do you do?”
Paul Michels, who also died at the spa in Acworth, owned an alarm company in Atlanta, where he and his wife, Bonnie, have lived 26 years, his brother John said.
He believes his brother was "just in the wrong place at the wrong time." They grew up with nine siblings in Detriot, riding dirt bikes and spending summer weekends at a lake and getting into mischief together, he said. They both served in the U.S. Army at the same time and his brother served as an infantryman in the late 1980s.
"I'm the closest in age, so we were basically like twins," said John, 52. "We did everything together growing up."
Little has been revealed about Daoyou Feng.
– John Bacon and Dennis Wagner.
'They shot me, come help me please': Lone survivor hospitalized
The lone shooting victim who survived the attack, Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, is hospitalized in intensive care.
His wife, Flor Gonzalez, said in an interview Thursday that he is currently intubated and due to have surgery as early as next week to remove the bullet in his abdomen.
Gonzalez said her husband, a Guatemalan immigrant, was on the way to a business next door to the massage parlor, where he sends money to family back home. He called her as the shooting was unfolding.
“They shot me, they shot me, come help me please,” she said Hernandez-Ortiz supplicated. Those were the last words Gonzalez has been able to hear from him, she said on the verge of tears. Read more about those who were killed here.
Hernandez-Ortiz is set to have surgery as early as next week to remove the bullet in his abdomen.
– Romina Ruiz
Historic congressional hearing on Asian discrimination turns emotional
A historic hearing Thursday on anti-Asian violence and discrimination, Congress' first on the issue in more than 30 years, turned emotional as lawmakers gave emotional pleas to end the use of divisive language just days after the spa shootings in Atlanta left the Asian-American community rattled.
"Our community is bleeding. We are in pain. And for the last year, we've been screaming out for help," Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said, noting the continued pleas throughout the pandemic and rise in hate crimes targeting the Asian community.
Trevor Noah on Atlanta shootings: 'If that's not racism then the word has no meaning'
Responding to Republican lawmakers' arguments that the focus on hate crimes could hamper free speech Meng told lawmakers they could criticize other countries but "you don't have to do it by putting a bulls-eye on the back of Asian Americans across the county, on our grandparents, on our kids."
Getting visibly emotional, Meng said "this hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community, to find solutions. And we will not let you take our voice from us"
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, asked whether the committee's attempts to prevent hate crimes and hate incidents against Asian Americans would hamper free speech.
"It seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society," he said of the hearing, though he said he opposed hate crimes and wanted justice to be served for the perpetrator of the shooting in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian or Asian American.
– Nicholas Wu
What to do if you are a witness to anti-Asian racism
If you see anti-Asian racism, Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks acts of discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, recommends these five safety steps:
Take action. Go to the targeted person and offer support.
Actively listen. Before you do anything, ask — and then respect the targeted person's response. If need be, keep an eye on the situation.
Ignore attacker. Try using your voice, body language or distractions to de-escalate the situation (though use your judgment).
Accompany. Ask the targeted person to leave with you if whatever is going on escalates.
Offer emotional support. Find out how the targeted person is feeling and help them determine what to do next.
A rise in anti-Asian attacks: Here's how to be an ally to the community.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta shooting updates: 4 victims ID'd; Suspect disowned by church