On Tuesday night, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man from Woodstock, Georgia, was taken into custody following a series of shootings that killed eight people — six of whom were Asian women. His first attack, at around 5 p.m., took place at Young's Asian Massage Parlour, about 30 miles (48 kilometres) north of Atlanta and 15 minutes away from Long's home. Less than an hour later, two more shootings in northeast Atlanta were reported. Long has confessed to all three attacks, according to Atlanta police.
Long killed four people and injured a fifth at Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia. According to NPR, police then received a call about a robbery at Atlanta's Gold Spa, and when they arrived at the scene, they found three women dead. Immediately after, they were alerted to a third attack at the Aroma Therapy Spa across the street, where a fourth woman had been killed. Sgt. John Chafee, an Atlanta police spokesman, said it was "extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County's."
The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said that, after releasing surveillance footage from the first attack, the police were contacted by Long's family, who identified their son and helped authorities track him down. Investigators believe he was headed to Florida to carry out more attacks when he was captured and taken into custody, about 150 miles (240 kilometres) south of Atlanta, on Tuesday night. He is currently facing murder charges and will appear in court for an arraignment on Thursday morning.
Long graduated from Sequoyah High School in 2017. The bio of an Instagram reportedly belonging to Long reads: "Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life." A former classmate told The Daily Beast that the shooter was "very innocent seeming and wouldn't even cuss," "sorta nerdy," "a hunter," and "big into religion."
Officials have hesitated to ascribe a motive to Long's actions, which clearly targeted Asian women during a time of rampant anti-Asian hate crimes in America. Sheriff Frank Reynolds, an official from Cherokee County, said that he interviewed Long and found "indicators that he has some issues, potentially sexual addiction."
When asked directly whether racism was a motive, Reynolds said that "the indicators right now are it may not be," and that Long reportedly "frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out." However, he added, law enforcement is still only beginning its investigation.
"He claims that these — and as the chief said, it's still early — but he does claim that it's not racially motivated," Cherokee County's Capt. Jay Baker added. "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."
All but two of Long’s victims were Asian women. At least two out of the three spas are Asian-owned businesses, and all three, reportedly, have many Asian employees — something Long probably knew if, as Reynolds and Baker claim, he frequented the spas. On top of that, many have noted that salon and spa work is often gendered: According to census data, there is an overwhelmingly large number of women working as spa managers, massage therapists, and massage technicians compared to men.
Citing "sex addiction" without the added context of who the victims are and how Long related them to his alleged addiction is just a way of dismissing the fact that Long's actions were rooted in racism, misogyny, and entitlement toward women. Specifically, Asian American women working low-wage jobs. As Phi Nguyen, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice's Atlanta chapter, told The Los Angeles Times, "That the Asian women murdered yesterday were working highly vulnerable and low-wage jobs during an ongoing pandemic speaks directly to the compounding impacts of misogyny, structural violence and white supremacy.”
One of Baker's most alarming comments, however, wasn't about Long's "temptation" at all; instead, it was when he said: "[Long] was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope. It was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did."
Police officials promote the idea that men like Long are "troubled," or "struggling" or dealing with "issues" instead of saying what it is that troubles them or what those issues are — namely, racism and misogyny. Rather than using coded words as a way of dismissing Long's actions, officials should let those actions speak for themselves, and not be afraid to call this rampage what it was: a crime fuelled by hate, not just a "really bad day."