Spa shooting suspect had visited Atlanta locations before, cops say

Flowers, candles and signs are displayed at a makeshift memorial outside of the Gold Spa in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Flowers, candles and signs are displayed at a makeshift memorial outside of the Gold Spa in Atlanta on Wednesday.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Investigators haven’t ruled out hate crime charges

The suspect in Tuesday’s spa shooting spree that left eight dead across the metro area visited both of the northeast Atlanta locations in the past, investigators said Thursday.

“I can say that he had frequented both of those locations,” deputy police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. told reporters, referencing Gold Spa on Piedmont Road, where three women were shot to death, and Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where officers discovered a fourth woman dead.

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was arrested in South Georgia on Tuesday night following the shooting spree that began at an Acworth-area spa and continued in Atlanta at similar businesses. Six of the eight people he’s accused of killing were Asian women.

Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said that Robert Aaron Long frequented both Atlanta spas ahead of Tuesday's shootings.
Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said that Robert Aaron Long frequented both Atlanta spas ahead of Tuesday's shootings.

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

“Unfortunately, they were at that location,” Hampton said of the Atlanta victims. “I can’t say that he specifically targeted those individuals.”

Authorities have not released the names of the four women gunned down at the Atlanta spas during the spree that rattled two metro communities and shook the nation. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said investigators have positively identified three of the victims, but are waiting to identify the fourth woman before releasing any of their names.

“I was hoping we would be able to release the names of the victims, but we are not able to do that at this time,” Hampton said at the news conference. “We need to make sure we have a true verification of their identities and that we make a proper next of kin notification.”

Atlanta police said they are working with the Korean consulate to accurately ID their four victims.

“We had four Asian females that were killed, and so we are looking at everything to make sure that we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides (was),” Hampton said.

Five people were shot during the Cherokee County incident and four of those victims died. They were identified Wednesday as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44, of an unknown address. The fifth victim, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was injured. He remains at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, according to his family.

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While Cherokee County investigators said Long told them the shootings were not racially motivated, Atlanta police haven’t ruled out charging the Woodstock man with a hate crime.

”Nothing is off the table,” Hampton said. ”On March 16th, a total of eight innocent lives were violently taken by the hands of one lone killer. The Atlanta Police Department continues to offer our support to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.”

He said most homicide cases take time to solve, especially when there are multiple victims, and that he expects a “lengthy investigation” into the spa shootings.

On Wednesday, Cherokee investigators said Long had a sex addiction and regularly patronized the types of businesses targeted in Tuesday’s shootings, reportedly calling them a “temptation he wanted to eliminate.”

Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace released a statement Thursday evening echoing the APD’s stance.

“You can be assured that once this case has been thoroughly investigated and the facts all ascertained, we will charge the defendant appropriately based on the evidence in this case and the existing laws,” Wallace said. “We will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”

The first shootings happened about 5 p.m. at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor, according to authorities. Surveillance cameras captured a man entering the Acworth business, then leaving after shots were fired. Investigators say Long then drove to northeast Atlanta in a Hyundai SUV, where he fatally shot four more women at two spas.

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According to the APD’s incident reports, Long is suspected of having alcohol in his system at the time of the two shootings on Piedmont Road. It is not clear from the report how many shots were fired in the two spas, but three of the four women suffered gunshot wounds to the head or face.

About two hours later, he was arrested by deputies and state troopers in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta. During interviews with detectives, he said he planned to drive to Florida, possibly to continue the shooting spree, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said. The gun used in the shootings was purchased hours earlier at a gun store in Holly Springs.

The violence forced police across metro Atlanta to step up patrols in Asian American communities and around Asian-owned businesses.

On Thursday, five Asian American lawmakers and others said the shootings were another example of rising violence against Asian Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic. They called for background checks for gun purchases, better mental health services and additional measures aimed at combating violence and racism.

ExploreAsian American lawmakers decry violence following Atlanta spa shootings

Atlanta police called the shootings “two despicable acts of violence” and said their investigation into the slayings is far from over.

“It is hard to comprehend what could lead someone to commit such a heinous crime and how someone could show such disregard for life,” the department said in a statement. “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.”

— Please return to AJC.com for updates.

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