A white gunman was charged on March 17 with killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at three Atlanta-area massage parlors in an attack that sent terror nationwide through Asian American community that have increasingly been targeted during the coronavirus pandemic.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, told police that the attack was not racially motivated and claimed to have a “sex addiction,” with authorities saying he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation. Six of the victims were identified as Asian and seven were women.
Authorities said that they did not know if Long ever went to the massage parlors where the shootings occurred, but that he was planning to go to Florida in a plot to attack “some type of porn industry.”
The shootings appear to be at the “intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia,” State Representative Bee Nguyen said, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House and a frequent advocate for women and communities of color.
The attack was the sixth mass killing this year in the United States, and the deadliest since the August 2019 Dayton, Ohio, shooting that left nine people dead. It follows a lull in mass killings during the pandemic in 2020, which had the smallest number of such assaults in more than a decade, according to the database which tracks mass killings.
Many suspects who commit mass shootings have a history of violence against women. The killings horrified the Asian American community, which saw the shootings as an attack on them, given a recent wave of assaults that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States. The virus was first identified in China, and then-President Donald Trump and others have used racially charged terms to describe it.
President Joe Biden said the FBI briefed him on the shootings and noted that Asian Americans are concerned about a recent rise in violence, a surge he has previously condemned. He called the attack “very, very troublesome” but was waiting for answers on the shooter’s motivation.
Vice President Kamala Harris offered condolences to the families of the victims.
“We’re not yet clear about the motive. But I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people,” said Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman to be vice president.
Over the past year, thousands of cases of abuse have been reported to an anti-hate group that tracks incidents against Asian Americans, and hate crimes in general are at the highest level in more than a decade.
“We are heartbroken by these acts of violence,” Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta said in a statement. “While the details of the shootings are still emerging, the broader context cannot be ignored. The shootings happened under the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fueled by white supremacy and systemic racism.”
Police in major cities deplored the killings. Seattle’s mayor said “the violence in Atlanta was an act of hate,” and San Francisco police tweeted #StopAsianHate. The New York City police counterterrorism unit said it was on alert for similar attacks.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has said its diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed with police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent. It said its consulate general in Atlanta was 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.