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Suspect in deadly Atlanta-area spa shootings charged with 8 counts of murder

"We're not clear yet on the motive, but I do want to say to our Asian America community that we stand with you," Vice President Kamala Harris said.
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The man accused of killing eight people in three shootings at Atlanta-area spas was charged with eight counts of murder Wednesday.

Four of the counts against the man, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, are related to shootings at two spas in Atlanta. The four others are related to shootings at another spa in Cherokee County. Long also faces an aggravated assault charge in Cherokee County.

The attacks began around 5 p.m. Tuesday, when four people were killed near Acworth in Cherokee County, authorities said. Less than an hour later, four women were killed in two shootings in Atlanta in Fulton County.

The victims in Atlanta were Asian women, as were two of the victims in Acworth, officials said. The two other victims were white, and a man who was injured was stable.

Earlier Wednesday, authorities said the suspect told investigators that he had a sexual addiction and saw the businesses as a temptation he needed to eliminate.

The details, shared by law enforcement officers during a morning news conference with Atlanta's mayor and other top officials, were cited as a potential motive for why the gunman went on a two-county shooting spree Tuesday evening.

It's unclear whether the businesses had any ties to sex work.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that the spas were "legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar" and that "we are not about to get into victim blaming, victim shaming here."

"Yesterday was a tragic day across our state," she said. "A crime against any community is a crime against us all."

The sheriff's office identified the Cherokee County victims as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

Feng's address was unknown. The man who was injured was identified as Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth.

Authorities arrested Long after a brief manhunt, Cherokee County sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker said. Officials said he was arrested in Crisp County, about 125 miles south of Atlanta, and extradited to Cherokee County.

Long, who is charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in Cherokee County, was held without bond and is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning.

The FBI is "assisting the local investigations," the agency said early Wednesday.

The number of anti-Asian hate incidents has risen significantly. Research released Tuesday by the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate revealed that nearly 3,800 incidents were reported over about a year during the coronavirus pandemic and that a disproportionate number of the reports said the attacks were directed at women.

Officials said that based on what Long told investigators, the attacks Tuesday did not appear to be motivated by race.

"We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment," Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said.

Baker said Wednesday that the gunman was likely to have acted alone.

"These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him, something he shouldn't be doing," Baker said, adding that Long indicated that he had an "issue with porn" and was "attempting to take out that temptation."

"He was fed up, at the end of his rope," Baker said. "He had a bad day, and this is what he did."

Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said Long "may have frequented some of these places in the past" and "might have been lashing out."

Officials said Long told investigators that he was on his way to Florida, perhaps to target more spa-like businesses, when he was captured.

"The public as a whole should be grateful that this suspect was quickly apprehended, because it's very likely that there may have been more victims," Bottoms said Wednesday.

Long's family contacted the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office after it released photos of the suspect. They helped police track his phone and eventually helped the Crisp County Sheriff's Office to catch up with him.

A 9 mm firearm was found in the car he was driving, police said. It was purchased legally on Tuesday before the shootings, two senior law enforcement officials briefed on the matter said.

Long graduated from Sequoyah High School in Cherokee County in 2017, according to a district official.

Nico Straughan, 21, who went to school with Long, told The Associated Press that he was "super nice, super Christian, very quiet." He said that in high school Long brought a Bible to school every day and would walk around with it in his hands.

"He went from one of the nicest kids I ever knew in high school to being on the news yesterday," Straughan said.

President Joe Biden was briefed overnight and again Wednesday morning, and the White House was in touch with Bottoms' office and the FBI, press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Biden said Wednesday: "Whatever the motivation here, I know Asian Americans, they are very concerned, because, as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans, and it's troubling. But I am making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer. ... I'll have more to say when the investigation is completed."

Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday that "our prayers are extended to the families of those who have been killed.

"We're not clear yet on the motive, but I do want to say to our Asian America community that we stand with you," Harris said. "Knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any kind of hate."

South Korea's Foreign Affairs Ministry told NBC News that four of the women who died were of Korean origin, but their nationalities have yet to be verified.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the shootings during a visit to South Korea, saying this type of violence had no place in America or anywhere.

"We will stand up for the right of our fellow Americans and Korean Americans to be safe and to be treated with dignity," he said.

Atlanta police said that because all of the shootings were at spas, officers were dispatched to similar businesses and patrols were increased.