Police in Georgia have arrested a 21-year-old white man, identified as Robert Aaron Long, after shootings at three Atlanta massage parlours on Tuesday evening left eight people dead.
Mr Long was wanted by police in connection to the worst of the three shootings, at Youngs Asian Massage Parlour in a strip mall near a rural area of Acworth about 50km north of Atlanta.
But police also said they are working on the basis that the three shootings are linked. The attacks collectively killed eight people, including six Asian-American women, one white man and one white woman.
Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Captain Jay Baker said Mr Long, of Woodstock, was taken into custody in Crisp County, about 240km south of Atlanta, after a manhunt of a few hours.
According to the Crisp County Sheriff, Billy Hancock, his deputies and state troopers used a pursuit intervention technique causing the suspect’s black Hyundai Tucson car to “spin out of control”, following which he was then into custody “without incident”.
FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said the agency was assisting Atlanta and Cherokee County authorities in the investigation.
Though the exact motive behind the shootings is not yet known, police were asked at a press conference whether the attacks could be connected to a broader rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.
Only a day before the shooting, Georgia state senator Dr Michelle Au spoke out about the rise in such incidents and said attackers were referring to the “China virus” during recent assaults - the term used by former president Donald Trump to describe Covid-19.
President Joe Biden, on the other hand, has spoken out to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes, calling such acts “un-American”.
Atlanta police said it was too soon to ascribe motive to Tuesday’s shooting, but confirmed a high number of the victims were Asian-American and said other similar massage parlour businesses would be visited by officers to provide reassurances.
Mr Long was described as “big into religion” and “sorta nerdy” by a former classmate at Sequoyah High, where he graduated in 2017.
Mr Long and his family have a long association with the Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, according to social media posts dating back several years reported by The Heavy.
A statement from the church said it was “grieved to hear the tragic news about the multiple deaths in the Atlanta area”.
“We are heartbroken for all involved. We grieve for the victims and their families, and we continue to pray for them. Moreover, we are distraught for the Long family and continue to pray for them as well.”
Additional reporting by agencies