ATLANTA — The Asian Pacific American community, already experiencing hate crimes nationwide, is in shock and disbelief over a mass shooting on March 16 that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, at three massage parlors in Georgia.
On Tuesday at approximately 4:54 p.m., Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to 6468 Highway 92, Acworth, Ga., regarding shots being fired at that location with several people injured. Upon arrival at Young’s Asian Massage, deputies discovered that five people had been shot.
Two of the victims were deceased, and three injured victims were transported to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital. Two of the three victims who were transported later died from their injuries. The fatalities were two Asian women, a white woman and a white man.
Detectives arrived on the scene, and security footage of a possible suspect, who was later identified as Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, was released to the media and the community. A short time later, investigators learned two other similar acts occurred in Atlanta.
Police in Atlanta found three Asian women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa, then found another Asian woman dead of a gunshot at Aromatherapy Spa, located a short distance away. Surveillance video showed the same vehicle at all three crime scenes.
Cherokee Sheriff’s Office detectives were able to track Long’s movements via GPS. He was traveling south on I-75. Sheriff Frank Reynolds contacted Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock. Crisp County sheriff’s deputies, along with the Georgia State Patrol, were waiting for Long as he entered Crisp County. After a short pursuit, a PIT maneuver was conducted on Long’s vehicle, and he was taken into custody without incident. A 9mm firearm was recovered during the traffic stop.
The Cherokee County victims were identified as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth;
Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44, address unknown. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth was injured.
The names of the four victims in Atlanta were not released pending notification of relatives, according to police. All but one of the eight victims were women.
Cherokee Sheriff’s investigators interviewed Long in Crisp County. He confessed to the shootings in Cherokee County and Atlanta and told investigators the crimes were not racially motivated. Long said that he blames the massage parlors for providing an outlet for his addiction to sex.
Long was transported to the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center and was charged with murder and aggravated assault, with no bond.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took issue with the way authorities described the possible motive of the suspect. “We are not about to get into victim-blaming, victim-shaming here,” she said at a Wednesday news conference, adding, “We don’t know additional information about what his motives were. We will not begin to blame victims, and as far as we know in Atlanta these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar.”
The mayor was referring to the depiction of Long’s mindset by Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, who told reporters, “He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” Baker added that the businesses were seen by Long as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said Wednesday morning that it was too early to call the murders a hate crime.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that four of the victims were of Korean descent.
In a statement on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden had been briefed overnight “about the horrific shootings” and that “White House officials have been in touch with the Mayor’s Office and will remain in touch with the FBI.”
“We are heartbroken by these acts of violence. Six Asian women lost their lives. Now is the time to hold the victims and their families in our hearts and in our light. We’re calling on our allies across communities of color to stand with us in grief and solidarity against racist violence in all its forms. When our most vulnerable community members are targeted, we all need to band together,” shared Stephanie Cho, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta.
“While the details of the shootings are still emerging, the broader context cannot be ignored,” Advancing Justice said in a statement. “The shootings happened under the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fueled by white supremacy and systemic racism. While anti-Asian violence is woven throughout our nation’s history, the Trump Administration’s relentless scapegoating of Asians for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased the incidences of hate and violence against Asian Americans around the country.
“According to the most recent data, hate incidents targeting Asian Americans rose by nearly 150% in 2020, with Asian American women twice as likely to be targeted. Stop AAPI Hate received 3,800 reports of anti-Asian hate since March 2020 to February 2021, with 35% of discriminatory acts happening at businesses and with women reporting hate incidents twice as often as men.”
“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,” said Phi Nguyen, litigation director at Advancing Justice-Atlanta.
“In Georgia, as in many states across the country, systemic disinvestment from and criminalization of communities of color means that we do not have the infrastructure or resources in place for effective community safety, a robust social service safety net, and in-language support,” Advancing Justice said. “In addition, white supremacy devalues the lives and experiences of immigrant communities, Black communities, and other communities of color while heightening xenophobia and divisions among us. At a time where we could be building bridges of understanding and support, white supremacy continues to diminish our already fractured society.
“During this time of crisis for our AAPI community, we call on our local and state government to provide robust and responsive crisis intervention resources, including in-language support for mental health, legal, employment, and immigration services. It is time for Georgia to invest in transformative justice that begins with cross-racial dialogue and community-building that address the root causes of violence and hate.”
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum Executive Director Sung Yeon Choimorrow issued the following statement: “We are appalled and devastated at the violence in Georgia that has taken eight lives, six of whom were Asian American women. We mourn with the families of these victims. We are horrified and continue to be concerned for the safety of our community members across the country as violence toward Asian Americans has escalated.
“Elected officials in Georgia must support these families and speak up immediately against hate and violence directed at the Asian American community.
“We cannot ignore the fact that anti-Asian hate and violence disproportionately impacts women. More than 68% of reported incidents of anti-Asian harassment and violence have been from women. New polling commissioned by NAPAWF has revealed that nearly half of Asian American and Pacific Islander women have been affected by anti-Asian racism in the past two years. This comes as no surprise. Even before the pandemic and the racist scapegoating that came in its wake, AAPI women routinely experienced racialized misogyny. Now, our community, and particularly women, elders, and workers with low-wage jobs, are bearing the brunt of continued vilification.”
Ms. N., a hair salon worker in Atlanta, mother of NAPAWF Georgia Chapter member Tiffany N., said,: “You go to work and you’re trying to earn money, and you have your family to feed and you’re just trying to survive and be like everyone else. And then stuff like this happens and it’s so scary. I am a part of the Vietnamese immigrant community, and I fear for our safety.” (Pseudonyms used for the women’s safety.)
The Japanese American National Museum said in a statement, “In the wake of the Atlanta shootings in which eight people were killed, the Japanese American National Museum grieves for the loss of life and condemns the killing in the strongest terms.
“While this violent crime is still being investigated, regardless of the motivation, the deadly shootings add to the already heightened sense of fear in Asian American communities across the country, as anti-Asian hate crimes have soared.”
“Violence against anyone because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other characteristic is reprehensible,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of JANM. “While the motivation behind this crime is still under investigation, the climate of anti-Asian racism cannot be ignored, nor can the incendiary language associating Asians with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has fueled more than 3,800 incidents of hate crimes against Asians in the last year.
“The consequences of this kind of language are dangerous and lethal. Our elected leaders must take substantive action to combat this as a matter of urgency. We look forward to the outcome of the House Judiciary Committee panel that will examine the crisis on Thursday when Asian American leaders will testify about the rise in racism and violence, and how to combat the attacks.
“During the hysteria of World War II, more than 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry – the majority of whom were American citizens – were wrongly incarcerated in America’s concentration camps. The parallels between the climate of anti-Asian racism in 1942 and the present are too stark to ignore.”
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement, “Our hearts are shattered tonight. The horrifying shooting that took place in Atlanta this evening is a disgusting and disturbing example of how the spread of domestic terrorism has been allowed to torment communities. These acts are the visible manifestation of hateful words birthing hateful acts. An attack on one is an attack on all. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms.”
People for the American Way President Ben Jealous released the following statement: “Our hearts are with our AAPI brothers and sisters in the Atlanta metro area and across the country as the FBI and local police continue their investigations into last night’s shootings that left eight people dead, including six Asian American women. Any loss of life is tragic. That this vicious attack should happen in a community that has already suffered so much as a result of anti-Asian bigotry, stoked in large part by the former administration, is heart-wrenching. We stand in solidarity with our Asian American brothers and sisters and extend prayers for the families of those who were killed.”
Statements from Elected Officials
Reactions from Asian Pacific American elected officials include the following:
Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus: “We’re horrified by the news coming out of Georgia at a time when we’re already seeing a spike in anti-Asian violence. Although details are still unfolding, at least half of the victims appear to be Asian American women. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.”
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside): “My heart breaks for the victims of the shootings in Georgia, their families, and their community. It’s so important to offer our support to the Asian American community, which is already experiencing a heightened sense of fear as we see a rise in anti-AAPI hate nationwide.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena): I am utterly devastated to learn about the 8 people senselessly shot to death in Georgia tonight. 6 of these victims are Asian American women. Our community has been facing a retlentless increase in attacks and harassment over the past year.
“As we wait for more details to emerge, I ask everyone to remember that hurtful words and rhetoric have real-life consequences. Please stand up, condemn this violence, and help us #StopAsianHate.”
Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Huntington Beach): “What happened in Atlanta last night was senseless and tragic, and unfortunately only adds to a long list of recent violent crimes against our Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 4,000 violent crimes and hateful incidents against the AAPI community have been recorded.
“This has to stop. We have to do everything we can to put an end to hate and help our neighbors, especially as we work together to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. My prayers are with the victims’ families today and in the days to come.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento): “This horrific attack underscores the fear and pain felt by AAPI communities across our country. We must all unite as Americans against anti-Asian discrimination, rhetoric, and hate.”
Rep. Young Kim (R-Diamond Bar): “My heart breaks to hear of the tragic events in Atlanta. I’m praying for the victims and their loved ones. While we wait to learn more, I stand with the AAPI community today and always as we witness more hate and attacks. This is not what we stand for …
“Let me be clear: the hate we’ve seen against the Asian American community is unacceptable and must stop. The only way we’ll get through this pandemic is by working together, not tearing each other apart.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii): “My heart breaks for the 8 people — including 6 women of Asian descent — who were murdered in Atlanta last night. This senseless act adds to the pain and suffering of the Asian community during a year of increased racism and attacks targeting AAPIs.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.): “My heart is with all who lost loved ones in Atlanta. While there’s still so much we don’t know, we do know that our Asian American community is understandably — and justifiably — outraged after enduring a year of heinous hate crimes and discrimination. Justice must be served.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.): “My heart breaks to see this tragic news. AAPI Americans are once again being targeted, harassed, attacked, and killed in Georgia and communities across America. We must do everything we can to end this violence while organizing together against hate, gun violence, and bigotry.”