An Atlanta-area sheriff's office said Thursday that it regrets "any heartache" caused by the comments of a department spokesman who said the suspect in the spa shootings that left eight people dead this week was having a "bad day."
The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office acknowledged that comments Wednesday by the spokesman, Capt. Jay Baker, were "construed as insensitive," but it insisted that "they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect."
Baker said the suspect told investigators that "he was fed up, at the end of his rope," and that he had "had a bad day, and this is what he did." Later Wednesday, it was revealed that Baker had shared a Facebook posting that promoted anti-Asian T-shirts last March.
"There are simply no words to describe the degree of human suffering experienced on Tuesday ... in our community and in Atlanta," Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a statement Thursday.
"I have known and served with Captain Baker for many years. His personal ties to the Asian community and his unwavering support and commitment to the citizens of Cherokee County are well known to many. Oh behalf of the dedicated women and men of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office we regret any heartache Captain Baker's words may have caused."
The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, is accused of killing four people inside Young's Asian Massage Parlor on Highway 92 near Bells Ferry Road in Cherokee County on Tuesday evening.
Long is also a suspect in shootings at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa on Piedmont Road in Atlanta about 45 minutes later. Three people were killed at Gold Spa, and one was killed at Aromatherapy.
Atlanta police revealed Thursday that they are still struggling, nearly 48 hours after the shootings, to make positive identifications of their four victims and notify their surviving loved ones.
"We need to make sure that we have a true verification of their identities and that we make the proper next-of-kin notification," Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton told reporters, adding that police are working closely with South Korean diplomats to find family members.
"We just ask that you just respect the families that are still mourning and some who may not even know yet," he said.
Hampton did not rule out hate crime charges.
"We had four Asian females that were killed, and so we are looking at everything to make sure we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides were," Hampton said.