Spa shootings suspect indicted in 2 counties; Fulton to pursue hate crime charges

May 11, 2021 Atlanta - Fulton County's district attorney Fani Willis walks to the podium before she speaks to members of press during a press conference on indictment of Atlanta spa shooting suspect Robert Long at Fulton County Courthouse Judicial Center Tower on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Eight weeks after eight people were killed at three metro Atlanta spas, a Fulton County grand jury has indicted the alleged gunman, the District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday. Prosecutors also plan to seek the death penalty and pursue hate crime charges, according to court filings. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
May 11, 2021 Atlanta - Fulton County's district attorney Fani Willis walks to the podium before she speaks to members of press during a press conference on indictment of Atlanta spa shooting suspect Robert Long at Fulton County Courthouse Judicial Center Tower on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Eight weeks after eight people were killed at three metro Atlanta spas, a Fulton County grand jury has indicted the alleged gunman, the District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday. Prosecutors also plan to seek the death penalty and pursue hate crime charges, according to court filings. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

DA Willis will seek death penalty for Robert Aaron Long

Eight weeks after eight people were killed at three metro Atlanta spas, grand juries in both Fulton and Cherokee counties indicted the alleged gunman Tuesday, the district attorney’s offices said. Fulton prosecutors also plan to seek the death penalty and pursue hate crime charges, according to court filings.

Robert Aaron Long, 22, was indicted on four counts of murder in the March 16 shootings, along with aggravated assault, domestic terrorism and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony, the Fulton indictment states. In Cherokee, Long was also indicted on four counts of murder, criminal attempt to commit murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and criminal damage to property in the first degree.

May 11, 2021 Atlanta - Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a press conference on the indictment of Atlanta spa shooting suspect Robert Long on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
May 11, 2021 Atlanta - Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a press conference on the indictment of Atlanta spa shooting suspect Robert Long on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Following the indictment, Fulton DA Fani Willis filed notice that she is seeking the death penalty — a move that comes a year after she spoke out against capital punishment while running for the office. Cherokee DA Shannon Wallace said no decision has been made about whether she will also seek the death penalty.

“Last year, I told the voters of Fulton County that I could not imagine a circumstance where I would seek it,” Willis said at a news conference late Tuesday. “And at that time, I did not. Unfortunately, a case has arisen in the first few months of my term that I believe warrants it.”

Investigators believe Long’s killing spree started at Youngs Asian Massage near Acworth, where he shot five people, killing four. Ashley Yaun, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Xiaojie Tan, 49, and Daoyou Feng, 44, all died from their injuries.

From there, Long is accused of driving 30 miles to Atlanta, where he again targeted spas, police have said.

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Atlanta officers were called to a report of a robbery at the Gold Spa, located at 1916 Piedmont Road. Inside, officers found three women dead from gunshot wounds, according to Sgt. John Chafee. While investigating that incident, officers were told shots were fired across the street at the Aromatherapy Spa. There, investigators found another woman shot to death.

Yong Ae Yue, 63, Soon Chung Park, 74, Suncha Kim, 69, and Hyun Jung Grant, 51, were killed in the Atlanta businesses.

Yong Ae Yue (clockwise from top left), Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant and Soon Chung Park were all killed in shootings March 16.
Caption
Yong Ae Yue (clockwise from top left), Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant and Soon Chung Park were all killed in shootings March 16.

Credit: Family photos

Credit: Family photos

Later that night, Long was arrested in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta. He was later charged with murder in both Cherokee and Fulton counties. After his arrest, Long told investigators he was overwhelmed by what he described as a sexual addiction at odds with his religious beliefs, authorities said.

Though Willis filed paperwork Tuesday to seek the death penalty, only one Georgia jury has handed down a death sentence during the past seven years. That occurred in April 2019 when a Gwinnett County jury sentenced Tiffany Moss to die by lethal injection for starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter to death, then trying to burn the child’s corpse inside a trash can. In that case, Moss represented herself as her own lawyer and put up no defense.

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And Willis herself has publicly spoken out against capital punishment. The former chief deputy in the Fulton DA’s office, who ousted her former boss Paul Howard, said on the campaign trail that none of the hundreds of murders she had prosecuted were appropriate for the death penalty.

But Tuesday, Willis said the facts in this case warrant the death penalty.

Willis also intends to pursue hate crime charges, the first time it will happen in Fulton, she said. Of the eight people killed, six were Asian women, prompting many to believe the crimes were racially motivated.

A memorial set up in front of Youngs Asian Massage honored the victims of the spa shooting in Cherokee County.
Caption
A memorial set up in front of Youngs Asian Massage honored the victims of the spa shooting in Cherokee County.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Georgia’s hate law went into effect in June and provides sentencing guidelines for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.

If Long is convicted of a felony and the crime is found to be motivated by hate, a judge could impose additional penalties. Someone convicted of committing a hate crime would face at least two additional years for a felony and a fine up to $5,000.

In Cherokee, Wallace declined to speak publicly, but she released an emailed statement.

“The charges in this indictment were determined based on a comprehensive investigation of Robert Aaron Long and the mass shooting that occurred at Youngs Asian Massage in Woodstock,” Wallace said. “The investigation was conducted by federal and local law enforcement agencies, in conjunction with the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office. Today we have taken another step forward in seeking justice for the victims of this crime and for their family members.”

Long remains in the Cherokee jail, where he is being held without bond. He will face arraignments in both counties, but those hearings have not been scheduled.

— Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.

THE STORY SO FAR

March 16: Eight people were killed at shootings at three spas in Cherokee and Fulton counties. The first shootings happened shortly before 5 p.m. near Acworth. About an hour later, two more shootings were reported at spas on Piedmont Road. Later that night, police arrested the suspect, Robert Aaron Long.

March 17: At a joint news conference, Atlanta police and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office announced Long had been charged with eight counts of murder. He was being held at the Cherokee jail.

Tuesday: A Fulton County grand jury indicted Long on four counts of murder. Fulton DA Fani Willis also filed documents to seek the death penalty and charge Long with hate crimes. Later Tuesday, a Cherokee County grand jury also indicted Long on four counts of murder.