The suspect accused in metro Atlanta’s worst killing spree in more than two decades once told his high school classmates that he vented his anger with force.
“If I’m angry or something, I go down to my drum set and start hitting stuff,” Robert Aaron Long said in Sequoyah High School’s yearbook in 2017, the year he graduated. “It just helps.”
Long, 21, is accused in the deadliest massacre in Georgia since 1999, when day trader Mark Barton murdered his wife and two children with a hammer before shooting nine people dead and injuring 13 others at a pair of stock brokerages in Buckhead. Barton died by suicide.
Long is charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in Tuesday’s fatal shootings of eight people, most of them Asian women, at three spa locations. He told investigators he considered such spas a “temptation he wanted to eliminate,” and had visited them before.
“I can say that he had frequented both of those locations,” Deputy Atlanta Police Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said at a news conference about the Piedmont Road spas Thursday. “I can’t say that he specifically targeted those individuals.”
Police haven’t released the identities of the Atlanta victims. The victims at an Acworth spa have been identified 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. Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was in stable condition Wednesday.
President Biden has ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims. He issued that order ahead of his visit to Atlanta Friday with Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden and Harris plan to meet with Asian-American leaders in Georgia to offer support.
The president has said that although authorities are still trying to determine Long’s motivation he is concerned about the recent surge in violence against Asian-Americans.
“Whatever the motivation here, I know Asian-Americans are very concerned,” Biden said. “Because, as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian-Americans for the last couple months, and I think it’s very, very troubling.”
Police records, social media and interviews with former classmates and law enforcement officials indicate Long was both heavily involved in his Alpharetta church — he was baptized twice — and tormented by his stated addiction to sex. Long was caught about 150 miles south of Atlanta after his parents recognized him in surveillance footage and contacted authorities. He told police he was headed to Florida, which he viewed as a hub for the porn industry and “an outlet for something he shouldn’t be doing.”
Long’s parents reported him missing on Jan. 20 of 2019, police records show. They told Cherokee sheriff’s deputies Long went to his girlfriend’s home in Chattanooga and was expected to return that evening. Instead, he texted his parents that he “would not be coming home because he wanted a fresh start.”
Business and civic leaders from metro Atlanta’s Korean community urged law enforcement on Thursday not to consider this week’s shootings the actions of a deranged sex addict.
“There is absolutely no way this was not a racially motivated killing against Asians,” the newly formed Atlanta Korean American Committee Against Hate Crimes said in a statement.
Former classmates, educators want to focus on victims
Sequoyah High School’s yearbooks include several photos of Long. In one, he is twirling a drumstick in his right hand. In another, he is seen with other students in a photo under a headline declaring: “Faithful Followers & Some Leaders, Too.”
Long worshipped at Crabapple First Baptist Church in Alpharetta and attended a youth mission trip to Costa Rica in 2016. In 2014, he belonged to a Christian group at the school called First Priority. Two years later, he participated in Fellowship of Christian Athletes and led its weekly gatherings.
“I really feel like God is wanting me to be a leader in the church, so I felt like this would be a really good opportunity to exercise some of those principles,” he said in his alma mater’s 2016 yearbook. “And also just reach out to our campus with the Gospel.”
Sequoyah graduate Logan Biddy shared a sophomore year history class with Long and remembers him as a quiet student who mostly kept to himself.
“He used to be cleaned up, never had a beard or facial hair. Always had nice manners. I would’ve never in a million years thought he would be doing something like this,” Biddy said.
Hannah Louise Baltz graduated with Long. Baltz doesn’t remember much about him, other than his quiet nature.
“We had a couple of school threats,” Baltz said, “but it was nothing from him. I never had my guard up about him.”
Other former high school classmates, heartbroken by Tuesday’s massacre, declined to talk about him, saying they wanted the spotlight kept on the victims.
Long enrolled at Chattahoochee Technical College in 2019. Before that, he enrolled briefly at the Cumming Campus of the University of North Georgia.
“Let me be clear — hate, racism and violence have no place in the UNG community, and this incident does not reflect the character of our community or the values we uphold,” UNG President Bonita Jacobs said in an email to students, faculty and staff. “My heart and prayers are with the family and friends of those murdered this week, as well as any students and colleagues in our UNG community who are fearful as a result of racist rhetoric and/or violence.”
Staff writers Greg Bluestein, Tamar Hallerman, Chris Joyner, Joshua Sharpe and Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.