ATLANTA—A man accused of killing eight people, most of whom were of Asian descent, at massage parlors in the Atlanta area told police the attack was not racially motivated and that he potentially had a “sex addiction,” officials said Wednesday.
Still, authorities said they were investigating whether the deaths were hate crimes. Six of the victims were identified as Asian and seven were women.
It was not clear if Robert Aaron Long, 21, ever went to the parlors where the shootings occurred; one official said he had while another indicated he may have only visited businesses like them. Authorities also said he was planning to go to Florida in a plot to attack “some type of porn industry.”
“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,” Cherokee County Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Jay Baker told reporters.
Sheriff Frank Reynolds said it was too early to tell if the attack was racially motivated—“but the indicators right now are it may not be.”
Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor, said that regardless of the shooter’s motivation, “it is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.”
The attacks began Tuesday evening, when five people were shot at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor near Woodstock, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, Baker, the sheriff’s spokesman, said. Two people died at the scene, and three were taken to a hospital where two died, he said.
About an hour later, police responding to a call about a robbery found three women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa, along of strip of tattoo parlors and strip clubs in one of the last ungentrified holdouts in an upscale area of Atlanta. Officers then learned of a call reporting shots fired across the street, at Aromatherapy Spa, and found another woman apparently shot dead.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden has been briefed on the “horrific shootings” and would receive an update later Wednesday from Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray. The FBI is assisting Atlanta and Cherokee County authorities in the investigation.
Police in Atlanta and other major cities deplored the killings. The New York City Police counterterrorism unit said it was on alert for similar attacks.
Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said in a video posted on Facebook that his deputies and state troopers were notified Tuesday night that a murder suspect out of north Georgia was headed their way. Deputies and troopers set up along the interstate and “made contact with the suspect,” he said.
A state trooper performed a PIT, or pursuit intervention technique, maneuver, “which caused the vehicle to spin out of control,” Hancock said. Long, of Woodstock, was then taken into custody “without incident.”
Crisp County sheriff’s spokeswoman Haley Wade said Wednesday morning that Long is no longer in their custody and that her office has turned over its information to the other Georgia agencies and the FBI.
Rita Barron, the store manager of a business neighboring the massage parlor that was targeted in Cherokee County, said that security footage of the parking lot outside the stores showed the gunman had been sitting outside in his car for about an hour just watching.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry earlier said that its diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed with police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent. The ministry said its Consulate General in Atlanta is trying to confirm the nationality of the women.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in South Korea meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, mentioned the killings during an opening statement.
“We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere,” he said.
By Kate Brumback and Angie Wang