Robert Aaron Long was identified as the suspect accused of shooting five people at a spa in Woodstock, Cherokee County, Georgia, and Atlanta officials said it is “extremely likely” he opened fire at two more spas about an hour later. The three shootings left eight people dead and another injured. Six of the victims were Asian, prompting investigators to question whether Long was fueled by racism. He told police his motive was based on a sex addiction, police said in a press conference.
A prosecutor filed a notice Tuesday, May 11, 2021 that they would seek the death penalty for Long and pursue hate crime charges, according to WSBTV. The eight victims were Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63 in Fulton County and Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54, in Cherokee County.
Deputies allege Long entered Young’s Asian Massage Parlor along Georgia Highway 92 and opened fire at about 5 p.m., shooting five people and killing four of them in Woodstock, an Atlanta suburb near Acworth. Officials allege he then drove to nearby Atlanta and opened fire at two additional Asian spas, Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa, killing four more people. He was taken into custody in Crisp County nearly 200 miles away. Deputies named the 21-year-old Woodstock man as the suspect at about 8 p.m. Minutes later, they announced he had been arrested. The FBI is also involved with the investigation.
A woman called 911 from Gold Spa and told a dispatcher she had to speak quietly because she was hiding from the gunman.
“Please come, OK?” she said, just above a whisper.
Surveillance footage showed the suspect fleeing the scene of Young’s Asian Massage Parlor. The images helped officials identify him as a likely suspect in the Atlanta shootings and spot his vehicle in Crisp County. License plate readers also indicated Long’s vehicle was near the crime scenes at the time of the second and third shootings.
Long has been described as a zealously religious person who claimed he targeted Asian women to eliminate “temptation.” His initial plan was to kill himself. Then, he decided to “help” others with sex addiction by targeting massage parlors, he told law enforcement, according to CNN. Officials said there was no evidence of illegal activity at the targeted massage parlors.
Long had spent time in rehab for sex addiction in 2019 and 2020. The night before the shootings, his parents kicked him out of the house, the news outlet reported.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Long Was Heavily Involved in His Church & He Claimed His Motive Was to Eliminate Temptation
While authorities emphasized they had no indication the massage parlors Long targeted were involved in any sort of illegal activities, or that Long had even visited those specific locations, the suspect claimed his goal was to eliminate temptation.
Long claimed to have a “sex addiction,” investigators said during a Wednesday morning press conference.
“He sees these locations as… a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jay Baker said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said they had no previous complaints of criminal activity at the massage parlors. The only 911 call the Atlanta Police Department ever received involving either of the spas was a report of stolen keys.
“As far as we know in Atlanta these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar, not on the radar of the Atlanta Police Department,” she said.
Long was on his way south to Florida to target establishments he believed were involved in the porn industry, he told officials.
Baker said officials asked Long directly if he had racist motives, and Long denied this. However, the investigation continues to determine an official motive in the case, officials said, emphasizing they are “very early” in the investigation. Long took responsibility for the shooting, officials said. Baker was criticized for his comments and for a 2020 Facebook post that included T-shirts saying COVID-19 was “imported from CHY-NA.” Read more about that here.
Long was described as a religious person by a former classmate at Sequoyah High School. The 21-year-old graduated in 2017. The classmate said Long’s dad was a pastor and Long had seemed “innocent” and “nerdy.”
“He was very innocent seeming and wouldn’t even cuss,” the classmate told The Daily Beast. “He was sorta nerdy and didn’t seem violent from what I remember. He was a hunter and his father was a youth minister or pastor. He was big into religion.”
Another classmate, Nico Straughan, 21, described a similar impression of Long in an interview with the Associated Press. He said he thought Long was “super nice, super Christian, very quiet.” He brought a Bible to school every day, and walked down the hallway with it in his hands, he said.
“He went from one of the nicest kids I ever knew in high school to being on the news yesterday,” Straughan said.
Social media posts from the Crabapple First Baptist Church show Long and his family have a lengthy history with the church. Long’s father is not listed as a pastor at the church. The elders of the church released a statement to Heavy saying they are “grieved” and “heartbroken.”
“We are grieved to hear the tragic news about the multiple deaths in the Atlanta area. We are heartbroken for all involved,” the statement said. “We grieve for the victims and their families, and we continue to pray for them. Moreover, we are distraught for the Long family and continue to pray for them as well.”
The church later deleted its website and Facebook page. Posts indicated Long attended the church with his mom, dad and younger sister. His mother organized events at the church, like a movie night with a cotton candy machine.
They issued a strongly worded statement Friday morning, March 15, separating themselves from Long’s statements regarding “eliminating temptation” and his targeting of Asian woman. They also rebooted portions of their website. The church said they deleted their website and Facebook pages for safety purposes. They further acknowledged the harm the attack caused the Asian community as a whole. The church also noted Long’s father did not work for the church.
The statement said, in part:
We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word. Aaron’s actions are antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church. In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the actions of Aaron Long as well as his stated reasons for carrying out this wicked plan. The shootings were a total repudiation of our faith and practice, and such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the gospel.
No blame can be placed upon the victims. He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires. The women that he solicited for sexual acts are not responsible for his perverse sexual desires nor do they bear any blame in these murders. These actions are the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible.
A Facebook post that has now been deleted included testimony from Long at his baptism in 2018, according to The Daily Beast. He said it was the second time he had been baptized.
“As many of you may remember, when I was 8 years old I thought I was becoming a Christian, and got baptized during that time. And I remember a lot of the reason for that is a lot of my friends in my Sunday school class were doing that. And after that time, there wasn’t any fruit from the root that is our salvation,” he said, referencing scripture, The Daily Beast reported.
The Bible passage means that a person’s actions should reflect their “inner walk with God.” He continued, saying he attended a youth group in seventh grade where he heard the Biblical story about the prodigal son.
“The son goes off and squanders all that he has and lives completely for himself and then, when he finds he’s wanting to eat pig food, he realized there’s something wrong and he goes back to his father and his father runs back to him and embraces him. And by the grace of God I was able to draw the connection there and realize this is a story between what happened with me and God. I ran away living completely for myself, and he still wants me, and so that’s when I was saved,” he said.
Long used his middle name, Aaron.
“We had the joy of witnessing the baptism of Aaron Long yesterday!,” the church wrote in the now-deleted Facebook post. “Please watch this video to hear his testimony!”
Long was also involved with the church’s Student Ministry Team as recently as 2018, according to minutes from a meeting of the elders. He was one of 11 people who served as members of the team, which “exists to see students receive Jesus Christ as Lord, and walk in Him, being rooted in the faith.”
The Daily Beast reported an Instagram account that “appeared to belong” to Long professed his love of God and guns. An Instagram spokesperson told CNN they deleted the account because it appeared to belong to Long. It had been inactive for some time, they said.
“Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life,” a tagline for the account said, according to The Daily Beast.
Cherokee County Sheriff’s deputies shared surveillance footage of the shooting suspect fleeing the scene of the first shooting. About three hours after the shooting, Long was arrested in Crisp County, about 200 miles south of the scene and about a two-and-a-half hour drive from the location of the first shooting.
“Cherokee Sheriffs office searching for Robert Aaron Long, 21 of Woodstock,” Ashley Thompson of CBS 46 wrote on Twitter shortly before the arrest. “He’s a suspect in shooting this afternoon on Hwy 92. near Acworth. He is believed to be driving a dark 4 door Hyundai Tucson (tag number RZR8983 with damage to the driver’s side of the vehicle.”
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office released a photo of the suspect earlier in the day on Facebook.
“Please share,” the Cherokee County Sheriff wrote on Facebook. “Suspect in a multiple shooting on Hwy 92 near Bells Ferry Rd. If anyone recognizes this suspect or his vehicle please call 911.”
That image, and surveillance footage from other businesses, helped identify Long as a suspect in all three shootings.
“It does appear that it’s the same suspect,” Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
2. Law Enforcement Officials Set Up a Perimeter on I-75 After Long Was Spotted Headed Toward Crisp County 200 Miles South & He Said He Was Headed to Florida to Commit More Shootings
Long told authorities that he was apprehended on his way to Florida, where he planned to commit more shootings, authorities said in a press conference Wednesday morning. It was Long’s own family that identified him after the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office released photos of the suspect, said Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds. He said Long’s parents were fundamental in the investigation.
Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock described Long’s apprehension during a press conference shortly after he was taken into custody. Georgia State Patrol and the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office received a tip at about 8 p.m. that Long was driving down the interstate and headed into the county, he said. Troopers and deputies stationed along the interstate and contacted Long at about 8:30 p.m. before law enforcement performed a pursuit-intervention technique, or PIT maneuver, to stop the vehicle, “which caused the vehicle to spin out of control.”
“The subject was taken into custody without incident at mile marker 93 in Crisp County, and transported to the Crisp County Jail,” Hancock said.
He said law enforcement investigating the shootings in northern Georgia, including the FBI, would be reporting to Crisp County “to continue this investigation.” He was jailed in the Cherokee County Detention Center Wednesday, and his arraignment was scheduled for Thursday, authorities said. That court appearance was canceled when his attorney waived the hearing in writing, Cherokee County Court officials told The Washington Post.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office celebrated the arrest in a brief Facebook post.
“Shooting suspect in custody!” they wrote.
Around the time the arrest was announced, another one of the victims was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to local media.
“#BREAKING Robert Aaron Long, the suspected gunman in the Cherokee County massage parlor shooting has been caught following a chase in Crisp County. Also, death toll now at four in Cherokee,” Chris Jose of WSB-TV wrote on Twitter.
Zac Summers of CBS46 also wrote about the arrest on Twitter.
“CAPTURED: Suspect in custody in Crisp County, the sheriff’s office there. Deputies did PIT maneuver to get him there. Still unclear if connected to ATL,” he wrote. “Also in Cherokee Co…now 4 dead. 1 injured.”
Atlanta Police issued an update on the case the evening of Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
On March 16, 2021 the City of Atlanta experienced two despicable acts of violence that left four of our community members dead. It is hard to comprehend what could lead someone to commit such a heinous crime and how someone could show such disregard for life. These deaths impacted all of our first responders as well as our communities, but, more importantly, they impacted the victims’ families and friends in a way most of us can only imagine. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families and friends who had their loved ones taken from them in such a senseless and untimely manner. These atrocious acts will not be tolerated and our investigators remain hard at work to ensure these murders are investigated thoroughly. Our goal is a successful prosecution of the shooter, to hold him accountable for his actions. Beyond processing evidence from the scenes, investigators are taking a hard look at what motivated the shooter. Our investigation is far from over and we have not ruled anything out.
3. Long Was Treated for Sex Addiction & Said He Initially Considered Suicide, Then Decided to ‘Help’ Others With Sex Addiction By Targeting Spas
Long had been treated for sex addiction and spent time in rehab, according to CNN. His addiction involved endless hours of watching pornography and visiting spas for sex. He told law enforcement he initially planned to kill himself, but decided instead to “help” others with sex addiction by targeting spas. Officials said there was no evidence of illegal activity at the targeted massage parlors.
Tyler Bayless told CNN he shared a housing unit with Long for about five or six months at a rehab facility in Roswell, Georgia called Maverick Recovery between August 2019 to January or February 2020. Long told Bayless he “relapsed” several times while he was in the facility by going to massage parlors for “sex acts.”
“It was something that absolutely would torture him,” Bayless said of the addiction.
Most people at the facility were being treated for drug or alcohol addiction, he said.
Bayless described Long as a “deeply religious person — he would often go on tangents about his interpretation of the Bible.
Another former roommate told CNN he had lived with Long in a transition house during the summer of 2020.
Authorities did not say whether the victims at the parlors were customers, employees or both.
Cherokee County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the shooting scene at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor to find two people dead and three others injured, Jay Baker of the sheriff’s office told 11Alive. Two of the injured victims later died, 11Alive reported.
Two of the shooting victims were Asian women, one was a white woman and one was a white man, Baker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The outlet identified the four deceased as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Xiaojie Yan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, and Paul Andre Michels, 54.
The fifth victim, who was taken to the hospital, was a 30-year-old Hispanic man, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Officials did not immediately release an update on his condition.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry’s diplomats in Atlanta confirmed with police that four of the victims were women of Korean descent, and that its Consulate General in Atlanta was trying to confirm the nationality of the women, according to the Associated Press.
Baker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Cherokee County had only one homicide in all of 2020 and 2019. He called the mass shooting “shocking.”
“In 2020, we had one homicide in Cherokee County, so, we’ve had three today, so it’s pretty shocking not only to our responding deputies and public safety, but also to the community here. And we take this very serious,” Baker told 11Alive.
Lanes were blocked on Highway 92 at Bells Ferry Road as officials conducted their investigation. The road was beginning to reopen in the evening, WSB-TV reported.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office asked the public to avoid the area immediately after the shooting and shared a photo on Twitter that showed the busy highway lined with police vehicles.
“Avoid BellsFerry Road and Highway 92 if possible,” the sheriff’s office wrote on Twitter. “Investigating a shooting in that area.”
4. Long Lived With His Parents Until the Night Before the Shooting, When He Was Kicked Out Due to His Sex Addiction
Long was dealing with a sex addiction that involved him spending hours watching pornography and sometimes going to massage parlors for sex, CNN reported. He had lived with his parents until the night before the shooting, an anonymous 911 call obtained by CNN indicated.
The incident report from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office indicated an anonymous caller told a dispatcher the suspect may be his son. He added his son “does have a tracker on his phone.” Another anonymous caller said the suspect was “kicked out of his parents’ house last night,” and said Long “was emotional.”
Long’s grandmother, Margaret Long, briefly spoke to CNN reporters who visited his grandparents home in Tennessee. The news outlet reported she was “visibly upset.”
“All I want to say is that he is our grandson and we still love him very much,” she said.
The Atlanta Police Department worked with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office to determine two shootings at spas in northeast Atlanta were likely related to the Cherokee County shooting, according to a police press release. The two shootings in northeast Atlanta left four people dead, police said. They occurred at about 6 p.m. at two businesses, Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa, which are across the street from each other in the 1900 block of Piedmont Road.
All four victims were Asian females, Atlanta Police Department’s interim Chief Rodney Bryant said in a press conference. There were no additional victims who were shot, he said.
Bryant said police were called to the first location, Gold Spa, for a robbery in progress just before 6 p.m. There, they found three women dead. While they were on the scene, they received another call for shots fired at Aromatherapy Spa. One person was fatally shot at that location.
“Many have asked whether these shootings are related to Cherokee County’s shootings,” Atlanta Police Department wrote in a press release early Wednesday morning. “Video footage from our Video Integration Center places the Cherokee County suspect’s vehicle in the area, around the time of our Piedmont Road shootings. That, along with video evidence viewed by investigators, suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody. Because of this, an investigator from APD is in Cherokee County and we are working closely with them to confirm with certainty our cases are related.”
The press release indicated that no additional information would be released until a Wednesday morning press conference, with a time to be announced, and stressed that the information was preliminary.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp commended law enforcement on their quick apprehension of the suspect and expressed his condolences to families.
“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” he wrote on Twitter. “We deeply appreciate the quick apprehension of a suspect by @ga_dps in coordination with local and federal law enforcement.”
Although the initial call in Atlanta was for a robbery, police said nothing was stolen and ruled out robbery as a motive. They are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime, according to 11 Alive News.
“6 of the 8 dead in Metro Atlanta are Asian women — 2 murder victims in Cherokee County and all 4 in Atlanta. Nothing was stolen, so robbery has been excluded as a motive. Police are investigating hate/bias in the 3 spa shootings,” Brendan Keefe of 11 Alive News wrote on Twitter.
5. Long Bought the Gun Used in the Shooting Just Hours Before He Allegedly Opened Fire at Three Spas
Long was found with a 9-mm gun was found during his arrest, authorities said in a press conference Wednesday morning. He bought the gun earlier in the day from a Cherokee County gun shop, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Big Woods Goods in Holly Springs told the newspaper he purchased a gun from them, and that they are cooperating with law enforcement.
White House Schedule wrote on Twitter that President Joe Biden would be briefed on the Atlanta-area shootings today.
“Later this morning, the President will be briefed over the phone by Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray on the horrific shootings last night in Atlanta,” the tweet said.
In the Wednesday morning press conference, Bottoms said she talked to Biden about the shootings, and that he offered his support.
He issued a proclamation Wednesday, March 18, 2021 to lower flags to half staff Monday, March 22, 2021.
Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the shooting at the start of a virtual meeting with Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin Wednesday.
“It is tragic,” Harris said “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.”
Reporters at a Monday night press conference with the Atlanta Police Department asked whether racism heightened with the coronavirus may have been the motive behind the shootings. Police said it was too early to pinpoint a motive, but confirmed all four victims in Atlanta were Asian females. Two of the five victims in Cherokee County were Asian females.
The Atlanta Police Department sent officers to “check on” similar businesses and increased patrols in the areas of those businesses, the department said in a press release early Wednesday morning.
“Having these two shootings occur at massage parlors and with knowledge of Cherokee County’s shootings, Zone 2 commanders quickly dispatched officers to check nearby similar businesses and patrols have been increased in those areas,” the press release said.
Bottoms spoke on anti-Asian racism, and said that regardless of the motive, “it is unacceptable. It is hateful, and it has to stop.”
Dr. Michelle Au, a state senator in Georgia, spoke out against anti-Asian racism the day before the shooting.
She said the issue does not get enough public attention, and called anti-Asian racism during the pandemic “a new chapter in a very old story.” Incidents include elderly Asians being physically assaulted, shoved to the ground and stabbed, and Asian pedestrians spit on in the street.
She said middle school students told an Asian classmate “people like him” were the cause of “the so-called China virus and Kung Flu.” When he told them he was not Chinese, they repeatedly punched him in the face, she said.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition organized to combat anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic, said in a statement that the shootings impact the entire Asian community.
“The reported shootings of Asian American women on Tuesday in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy – for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI community — which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination,” they wrote on Twitter. “Few details have been released, including whether or not the shootings were related or motivated by hate. But right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed.”
HuffPost reported there have been 4,000 incidents of racism against Asians reported in the last year.
The shooting prompted the NYPD to increase their presence in Asian communities. They deployed officers from the Critical Response Command to Asian communities around New York City.
“#NYPDCT is monitoring the shooting of Asian Americans in Georgia,” the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau wrote on Twitter. “While there is no known nexus to #NYC we will be deploying assets to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution.”