‘A crime against us all.’ Outrage, grief after deadly spa shootings

Most of the victims were Asian women

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Metro Atlanta was gripped by shock and anger on Wednesday, the day after a deadly shooting spree killed eight people - most of them Asian women.

“Our hearts are breaking for the victims and their families, and we’re certainly keeping them in our prayers,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “We’ll let the investigation continue, but it was a tragic night in our state.”

Robert Aaron Long, 21, apprehended in South Georgia Tuesday night, has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He has been returned to Cherokee County, where the first shootings took place on Tuesday.

“A motive is still not clear, but a crime against any community is a crime against us all,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “I have remained in close contact with the White House and APD as they work with federal, state and local partners to investigate the suspect who is responsible for this senseless violence in our city.”

Long told investigators he frequented the types of businesses targeted in the Tuesday shootings, calling them a “temptation he wanted to eliminate.”

”During his interview, he gave no indicators that this was racially motivated,” Cherokee Sheriff Frank Reynolds said Wednesday. “We asked him that specifically and the answer was no.”

Long also told investigators his plan was to drive to Florida. He was caught late Tuesday about 150 miles south of Atlanta, thanks in part to his parents, according to police. The FBI is assisting with the investigation.

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid

Communities around metro Atlanta reacted swiftly to Tuesday’s violence. The Doraville City Council announced it would pass a resolution condemning the violence, while the Gwinnett Police Department said it would step up patrols around Asian-owned businesses.

“Although there are no known threats at this time, these patrols will continue for the foreseeable future for the safety and comfort of the community,” the department said. “If anyone sees something that may appear suspicious or potentially criminal in nature, they are encouraged to call the police immediately.”

As stricken loved ones grieved the sudden loss of the victims taken Tuesday night, investigators continued to piece together what happened.

Hours before the shootings started, Long bought a gun from Big Woods Goods in Holly Springs, an employee told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now the store is cooperating with law enforcement. A 9mm firearm was found when Long was arrested.

The first incident happened around 5 p.m. Tuesday at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor in Acworth, according to police. Surveillance cameras captured a man entering the business, then leaving after shots were fired. Four people died from their injuries, according to police.

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. A fifth victim, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was in stable condition Wednesday. Tan was the owner of the business, according to records on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.

About an hour later, Atlanta police responded to a report of a robbery at the Gold Spa on Piedmont Road.

In the first of two 911 calls within 11 minutes, a woman inside the business said she was reporting a robbery. Speaking softly, she said she was hiding inside the business and that she needed police on Piedmont Road.

”They have a gun,” she tells the dispatcher.

When the dispatcher asked where the man was, the employee replied, “I don’t know. I’m hiding right now … Please just come, OK?”

When officers arrived, they found three women shot to death inside the business. While police were investigating those deaths, shots were fired at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street. There, investigators found a fourth woman dead.

The names of the four killed in Atlanta were not released Wednesday pending notification of family members, according to police.

While Atlanta officers were investigating the back-to-back shootings, the Cherokee sheriff’s office released surveillance images. Long’s parents contacted investigators after seeing the photos, authorities said.

Cherokee and Atlanta investigators were immediately in contact to discuss similarities in the shootings, Atlanta interim Chief Rodney Bryant said. From there, investigators tracked Long by his cellphone, Reynolds said.

Bottoms said during a Wednesday morning press conference that investigators believe Long may have been attempting to drive to Florida and possibly commit additional crimes. But he didn’t make it that far.

Crisp County deputies, along with the Georgia State Patrol, were waiting for Long as he entered the county. After a PIT maneuver, a technique sometimes employed by authorities pursuing a suspect who won’t stop, Long was arrested without further incident. He was later returned to Cherokee, where he was being held without bond late Wednesday.

“It was stunning. It was tragic. It certainly was heartbreaking,” Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said. “I’m happy, so very happy, that we’re not at this moment trying to figure out who did it. The person responsible has been apprehended and will be meeting justice.”

— Staff writers Joshua Sharpe, Greg Bluestein, Jennifer Peebles and Wilborn Nobles contributed to this article.