Georgia spa shootings: Suspect officially charged after 8 people killed at 3 businesses; most victims were Asian

ATLANTA — Eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, were killed Tuesday night in three shootings at Atlanta-area spas before police arrested a 21-year-old man suspected of being the lone gunman.

Police said the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, told authorities his actions were not racially motivated and he frequented some of the spas where the shootings happened. Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker said Long viewed the spas, which are all listed on a prominent illicit massage parlor matching website, as "a temptation that he wanted to eliminate."

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it was too soon in the investigation to say whether the shootings were a hate crime. "We are just not there as of yet," Bryant said during a Wednesday morning news conference.

The killings came amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States.

Here's what we know:

Where did the shootings happen?

The first incident happened at Young's Asian Massage Parlor in a strip mall off Highway 92 near a rural area in Acworth, about 30 miles north of Atlanta.

Police received a call around 5 p.m. about the shooting and found five people shot. Two were dead, and three were rushed to a nearby hospital, where two others died. The fifth person was injured but in stable condition Wednesday, Baker said.

Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said his office immediately released surveillance photos of the suspect and Long's family contacted the office believing their son was involved.

An hour later, two other shootings occurred across the street from each other in Atlanta on Piedmont Road, at the Gold Spa and the Aromatherapy Spa.

A visual timeline of the attack: What happened at Atlanta spa shootings

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Atlanta police said in a statement video footage placed the vehicle of the suspect in the Cherokee County shooting in the same area as the shootings in northeast Atlanta.

Authorities contacted the Crisp County Sheriff's Office, anticipating where the suspect might be headed. Sheriff's officials there along with the Georgia State Patrol stopped Long around 8 p.m.

All three spas are listed on, an erotic review site that allows users to search for and review illicit massage parlors. The site is the most popular of its kind, where buyers who call themselves “hobbyists” or “mongers” looking for sex go to find and share information, according to a study by Polaris, a nonprofit group that operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa, both in Atlanta, have around 100 reviews, many recent. A review for Gold Spa on March 9 indicated that it was “full service,” as did a similar review from five days prior. Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia, has 39 reviews on Rubmaps, the latest posted in February.

Who were the victims?

Seven women and one man were killed in the string of attacks, the majority were of Asian decent.

In Cherokee County, the victims were Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44. A 30-year-old Hispanic man was injured.

All four victims of the Atlanta shootings were Asian women, police said.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that its diplomats in Atlanta confirmed four of the women were of Korean descent.

Michels' younger brother, John Michels, 52, said he believes his brother was "just in the wrong place at the wrong time." He said they grew up with a total of nine siblings in Detriot, riding dirt bikes and spending summer weekends at a lake and getting into mischief together. 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," John said. "We did everything together growing up."

John said Paul Michels owned an alarm company in Atlanta, where he and his wife, Bonnie, have lived 26 years. "He was just a very hard-working Republican," John added, "and a very strong Trump supporter."

Even in grief, John insisted on putting out a message to the alleged slayer: "Although this is a tragedy, I forgive that man and so will Jesus Christ... I cannot hate him for it. I pray for his repentance."

Who is the suspect, Robert Long?

Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, was taken into custody in Crisp County on Tuesday night, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, Baker said.

Wednesday morning, Long was extradited into Cherokee County Sheriff's custody, Haley Little, a Crisp County Sheriff's Office spokesperson told USA TODAY.

Baker said a 9mm firearm was recovered from Long's car.

Long was officially charged by authorities with eight counts of murder Wednesday in all three shootings. Four of the counts against Long are related to shootings at two massage parlors in Atlanta. The other four are related to shootings at a massage parlor in Cherokee County.

During an interview with Atlanta police, Cherokee County sheriff's deputies and FBI officials, Long said his actions were not racially motivated, according to Reynolds.

Long has not been charged with a hate crime, a specific charge that authorities must prove a crime was committed on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

"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," Baker said.

Long had been in rehab for sex addiction and was wracked with guilt about his sexual urges, according to two people who lived with him in transitional housing.

Baker said Long believed there was "some type of porn industry" in Florida that he intended to confront and that he was on his way to the state when he was apprehended.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, however, that the Atlanta spas were not on police's radar.

Long purchased a firearm Tuesday — the day of the attacks — from Big Woods Goods, a sporting good story in Cherokee County. Matt Kilgo, the shop's attorney, said his clients are "fully cooperating" with police. "Everything they have will be turned over," Kilgo said.

Shannon Gott, the owner of Backwoods Bowstrings, a hunting supply shop north of Atlanta, said said Long shopped there about once a year for arrows, and they posted a photo of Long this past year on the store's web gallery after he "harvested an animal" during deer season.

"Apart from that, I know nothing about this idiot," Gott said, noting the store posts photos of many of its customers. He added that he is going to take down the gallery, and expressed sympathy to friends and family of those killed.

Authorities said the only police report on file with the Cherokee Sheriff's Office mentioning Long was from 2019 when the then-19-year-old ran off with his girlfriend and was reported missing by his parents. "Their son sent them a text stating he was not returning home and wanted a fresh start," the report states.

Authorities note in the 2019 report his parents said Long was "not suicidal, did not take any medication, and had no mental illnesses."

Long was quiet in school, former classmate said, and never really stick out. "He was always very reserved and quiet for the most part," said Emily Voigt, who attended elementary, middle and high school with Long. "Never really stood out and a lot of us (who went to school with him) never really got the chance to know him deeper because he was very shy."

Long and his father attended church most Sundays, services during the week and went on mission trips at Crabapple First Baptist Church in Alpharetta, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, Brett Cottrell, a former youth minister told the Washington Post.

Elders at the church said in a statement that they were “grieved” to learn about the shooting Tuesday and are “heartbroken for all involved.”

How have attacks against Asian Americans risen during COVID-19?

Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen said the shootings appear to be at the “intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first African American and South Asian American woman to be elected vice president, called the incident "tragic."

"The investigation is ongoing, we don’t yet know, we’re not yet clear about the motive. But I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people."

Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks incidents of discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said found nearly 3,800 incidents of hate, discrimination or attacks on Asian Americans from March 2020 through February 2021. The group has said Asian Americans have been blamed for the pandemic and connected the attacks to racist rhetoric from politicians, including former President Donald Trump.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans during COVID: Attacks on Asian Americans highlight rise in hate incidents amid COVID-19

The group tracked 48 incidents in Georgia during the same time period.

"The reported shootings of multiple Asian American women today in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the Asian American community, which has been reeling from high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year," the group said in a statement late Tuesday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the “horrific shootings” and administration officials have been in contact with the mayor’s office and the FBI.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in South Korea meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and addressed the killings Wednesday. “We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere,” he said.

"A crime against any community is a crime against us all," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said.

Contributing: Dennis Wagner, Erin Mansfield, Cara Kelly, Gary Estwick, Jordan Culver, Kevin Johnson, Will Carless and Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta shooting: 8 dead, most victims Asian; Robert Long in custody