Georgia officials said Wednesday that the suspect in a series of shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors that left eight people dead may have a “sexual addiction” and was possibly planning to carry out similar attacks in Florida.
Police arrested a white 21-year-old Georgia man who they say has taken responsibility for the shootings, while denying they were racially motivated, though many of the victims were women of Asian descent.
Instead, officials told reporters that Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, said he was a frequent visitor of massage parlors and intended to eliminate the temptation he thought they posed. But officials wouldn’t say whether the parlors where the shootings occurred were places where sex took place.
He was on his way to Florida to "perhaps to carry out additional shootings," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Wednesday.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant cautioned that it was too early to say if it was hate crime. But many members of the Asian American community said they felt they had been targeted.
The attacks began Tuesday evening, when five people were shot at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor near Woodstock, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, Cherokee County Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Jay Baker said. Two people died at the scene, and three were taken to a hospital where two died, Baker said.
About an hour later, police responding to a call about a robbery found three women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa near Atlanta's Buckhead area, where tattoo parlors and strip clubs are just blocks away from mansions and skyscrapers in one of the last ungentrified holdouts in that part of the city. Officers then learned of a call reporting shots fired across the street, at Aromatherapy Spa, and found another woman apparently shot dead.
“It appears that they may be Asian,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said.
Little is known about the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, and authorities haven’t specified charges.
Surveillance video recorded a man pulling up to the Cherokee County business about 10 minutes before the attack there, and the same car was spotted outside the Atlanta businesses, authorities said. A manhunt was launched, and Long was taken into custody in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, Baker said.
Video evidence “suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody,” Atlanta police said in a statement.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in statement Wednesday 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.
FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said the agency is assisting Atlanta and Cherokee County authorities in the investigation.
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 was then taken into custody “without incident.”
Crisp County sheriff’s spokeswoman Haley Wade said Wednesday morning that Long, who is white, is no longer in their custody and that her office has turned over its information to the other Georgia agencies and the FBI.