Ahead of President Biden’s meeting with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta on Friday afternoon, the Baptist church that counted Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in a series of deadly spa shootings, as an active member posted a lengthy statement on its website Friday morning that called this week’s attacks “the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind.”
“We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word,” the statement from Crabapple First Baptist Church, in Milton, Ga., said. “The shootings were a total repudiation of our faith and practice, and such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the gospel.”
During their visit, Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Asian-American in the role, are expected to discuss the nationwide increase of attacks on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders during the coronavirus pandemic. Six of the eight people killed in the Atlanta shootings were women of Asian descent.
The police said that Mr. Long, 21, told them that he has a sexual addiction, and that the shootings were an attempt to eliminate temptation. Mr. Long has been charged with eight counts of murder in the attacks on three massage businesses.
Crabapple First Baptist strictly prohibits sex outside of marriage. Mr. Long had previously checked himself into a Christian rehab clinic in order to combat what he perceived as an addiction.
The Atlanta police said on Thursday that Mr. Long had been a customer at two of the spas that were targeted in the attacks, but did not specify whether he had sought anything more than a massage.
The church’s statement placed the blame fully on Mr. Long. “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,” the church said. “These actions are the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible.”
The church said it was cooperating with law enforcement and that it deeply regretted “the fear and pain Asian-Americans are experiencing as a result of Aaron’s inexcusable actions.”
Mr. Long and his family have been active members of the conservative evangelical church for many years. Mr. Long was baptized there as an adult in 2018, according to a now-deleted Facebook post from the church. The statement on Friday said the church had begun the process of “church discipline” to remove Mr. Long from its membership.
The four victims who were killed at two spas in Atlanta were identified on Friday morning.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the women as Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63. All of the victims were women of Asian descent.
The authorities had withheld the names for several days after the shooting on Tuesday as they sought to notify the proper family member of one of the victims.
The statement from the medical examiner’s office said three of the women had been shot in the head and one had been shot in the chest, but included little more information.
Ms. Grant, 51, was an employee at Gold Spa. She spent most of her time working, rising early and returning late at night, according to her son, Eric Park. A single mother, she worried about helping her two sons with their college tuition and paying the rent and bills on the home they shared in Duluth, Ga.
She did not speak much about her job, preferring to tell people that she worked at a makeup store. “She didn’t want us to worry about her ever,” said Eric Park, 20.
On her free days, she liked to take Eric and his older brother, Randy, 22, to the aquarium or the mall. They would usually end up at a Korean restaurant, sharing galbi or sundubu, a spicy tofu stew Ms. Grant craved.
She was playful and fun and had a young spirit — she liked to say she had the mind of a young teenager, Eric Park said. She enjoyed watching Korean dramas and whipped up bowls of kimchi chigae. “As long as we were together, she was pretty happy,” he said.
The trio was close-knit, as the rest of their family lived in Korea and the brothers did not have a relationship with their father, Eric Park said. Ms. Grant was a supportive mother who encouraged her sons to carve out their own futures.
Ms. Grant’s sons learned about Tuesday’s shooting from a Gold Spa employee’s daughter, but did not know their mother had died until late that night when a relative in Korea saw her name in a report.
“All I can think about is her,” Eric said. “Looking at the news just gets me mad. That deputy saying the shooter had a bad day — how is that a bad day? To me it’s a hate crime no matter how it looked.”
The police had already identified the four victims who were killed at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County, a suburb, which the gunman had targeted before driving to the two spas in the City of Atlanta.
Xiaojie Tan, the hardworking owner of Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Ga., made her patrons feel at home and treated her friends like family, one longtime customer said on Thursday. Two days ahead of her 50th birthday, Ms. Tan was among eight people killed at three spas in the Atlanta area.
One of her employees, Daoyou Feng, was also among those left dead on Tuesday. The suspected gunman, Robert Aaron Long, has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.
Greg Hynson, the longtime customer of Ms. Tan, described her as “just the sweetest, kindest, most giving person.”
Among the other victims were:
Delaina Ashley Yaun: Ms. Yaun, 33, was on a date with her husband when she was killed. A mother of two, Ms. Yaun had grown up in the area and had worked at a Waffle House restaurant.
Paul Andre Michels: Mr. Michels, 54, who came from a large family, was a businessman and an Army veteran. He grew up in Detroit and moved to Georgia about 25 years ago.
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Asian-American in the role, will meet with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta on Friday afternoon after a shooting rampage at Asian massage businesses left eight people dead this week.
While investigators continue to assess whether the shootings were racially motivated, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are expected to discuss the nationwide increase of attacks on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders during the coronavirus pandemic. Six of the people killed in the Atlanta shootings were women of Asian descent.
At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Asian-American lawmakers warned that the country had reached a “crisis point” amid a sharp increase in discrimination and violence targeting the Asian community. It was the first congressional hearing on the issue held in over three decades.
Although Asian-Americans, like other minority groups, have long endured deadly violence, the threats and discrimination they continue to face are often trivialized as harmless insults.
“There’s a tendency to not believe that violence against Asian-Americans is real,” said Angela Hsu, 52, a lawyer in suburban Atlanta. “It’s almost like you need something really, really jarring to make people believe that there is discrimination against Asian-Americans.”
Investigators in Cherokee County, where one spa was targeted, have said that the gunman told them he had a “sexual addiction” and had carried out the attacks as a way to eliminate temptation.
The president and vice president canceled a political event that had previously been scheduled for Friday night in Georgia, the White House announced.
“During their trip to Atlanta,” White House officials said, “they will instead meet with Asian-American leaders to discuss the ongoing attacks and threats against the community.”
An itinerary for Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris says they will meet with Asian-American leaders at Emory University after visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This week, Ms. Harris, whose mother was born in India, condemned the bloodshed and expressed her solidarity with the Asian-American community.
“This speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it,” Ms. Harris said, adding that the motive in the shooting was still unclear.
“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,” she added.
As a tribute to the shooting victims, Mr. Biden on Thursday ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff through sunset on Monday.
As the man charged with murder in the Atlanta spa shootings was put in a jail uniform and brought to a cell on Tuesday night, hours after the attacks, he asked a sheriff’s deputy if he was going to spend “the rest of his life” in jail, according to a police report.
The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, who has been charged with eight counts of murder in the attacks on three massage businesses, was captured on an interstate in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta.
Deputy Tara Herrick of the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office wrote in the police report that Mr. Long’s comments were captured on an officer’s body camera. He had been taken into custody after a Georgia State Police officer bumped his car, forcing it to turn sideways and come to a stop.
The authorities have said that Mr. Long told them he was on his way to Florida to commit more violence on a business tied to the pornography industry there. The attacks on the spas, which left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent, stoked a furious outcry over escalating anti-Asian violence.
As investigators on Friday continued to investigate whether to classify the attacks as a hate crime, people who knew Mr. Long offered new details about a dangerous collision of sexual loathing and what a former roommate described as “religious mania” that marked his life in the years before the shooting spree.
Mr. Long had grown up in a conservative Baptist church that strictly prohibited sex outside of marriage, and he appeared fixated on guilt and lust in the months before the attacks. He grew frustrated and distraught when he failed to curb his sexual urges, said Tyler Bayless, a former roommate who lived with Mr. Long at a halfway house near Atlanta for about five months beginning in August 2019.
Mr. Long used a flip phone so that he could not access pornography, and he once asked Mr. Bayless to take away his computer, which already blocked many websites. Nearly once a month, Mr. Long would admit he had again relapsed by visiting a massage business for sex, Mr. Bayless said.
The Atlanta police said Mr. Long had been a customer at the two spas in the city that were targeted. They did not specify whether he had sought anything more than a massage, and the authorities in Cherokee County did not say whether he had visited the spa that was attacked there.
In early 2020, Mr. Long moved from the halfway house for more intensive treatment at HopeQuest, a Christian addiction center, and the two men fell out of touch, Mr. Bayless said.
“I think he just felt like he could not be trusted out there alone,” Mr. Bayless added, referring to Mr. Long’s inability to stop visiting the spas.
After eight people, six of them Asian women, were fatally shot this week in a rampage near Atlanta, a law enforcement official said that in the gunman’s own words, his actions were “not racially motivated,” but caused by “sexual addiction.”
The official, Capt. Jay Baker of the Sheriff’s Office in Cherokee County, where one of the three massage businesses targeted by the gunman was located, cautioned that the investigation was in its early stages. But the implication was clear: It had to be one motive or the other, not both.
That suggestion was met with incredulity by many Asian-American women, for whom racism and sexism have always been inextricably intertwined. For them, racism often takes the form of unwanted sexual come-ons, and sexual harassment is often overtly racist.
With reports of anti-Asian attacks surging after the Trump administration repeatedly emphasized China’s connection to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is evidence that most of the hate, unlike other types of bias crime, has been directed at women.
“People on here literally debating if this was a misogynistic attack against women or a racist attack against Asians,” Jenn Fang, the founder of a long-running Asian-American feminist blog, Reappropriate, wrote in a scathing Twitter thread. “What if — wait for it — it was both.”
Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, an advocacy group, said that when she first came to the United States to attend college in 2000, she was “stunned, dumbfounded, horrified” by the way she was frequently approached by male strangers who professed to love Korean women.
“It is the ‘Me so horny, I love you long time,’ in like weird accents, and ‘Oh, are you Korean? I love Korea,’” she said, adding that she began to wonder if American men were crazy.
She said many Asian-American women viewed Tuesday’s shooting rampage as the culmination of this racialized misogyny.
“I’m telling you, most of us didn’t sleep well last night,” she said. “Because this was what we had feared all along — we were afraid that the objectification and the hypersexualization of our bodies was going to lead to death.”
A sheriff’s deputy will no longer serve as his agency’s spokesman for the investigation into the Atlanta-area spa shootings after he drew criticism for saying that the suspect in the attacks had “a really bad day” before the shootings, and for anti-Asian Facebook posts that he made last year.
The deputy, Capt. Jay Baker, was no longer speaking on behalf of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office on the shooting, according to a spokeswoman for the county. The spokeswoman, Erika Neldner, said in a text message on Thursday that she would be taking over the communications duties in the case.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Captain Baker discussed the frame of mind of the man charged with eight counts of murder in Tuesday’s shootings. He said that the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., had understood the gravity of his actions when he was interviewed by investigators.
“He was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope,” Captain Baker said. “Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
The comments were widely panned on social media, with critics characterizing them as callous and pointing to Facebook posts from March 30 and April 2 of last year by Captain Baker, in which he promoted sales of an anti-Asian T-shirt. The shirts, echoing the rhetoric of President Donald J. Trump, referred to the coronavirus as an “imported virus from Chy-na.”
“Place your order while they last,” Captain Baker wrote at the time in one of the posts. He did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday and Thursday.
State Senator Michelle Au of Georgia said that Captain Baker’s remarks about the suspect illustrated how law enforcement treated crimes against certain groups differently, and that his Facebook posts were an example of casual, open racism toward Asian-Americans.
“It’s not treated the way that other forms of racism are,” she said in an email. “It’s more accepted, it’s more palatable, it’s more tolerable for large swaths of the population.”
On Thursday, the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, a nonprofit group, demanded that Captain Baker be removed from his job. “These racist social media posts that have now been shared have been on his page for almost a year,” the group wrote on Facebook, “and it took a mass shooting to bring them to light.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Cherokee County sheriff, Frank Reynolds, defended Captain Baker, saying that he did not intend to disrespect any of the victims or express “empathy or sympathy” for the suspect.
“Captain Baker had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his 28 years in law enforcement,” Sheriff Reynolds said. He added, “On behalf of the dedicated women and men of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, we regret any heartache Captain Baker’s words may have caused.”
Until Tuesday, when eight people were killed in Atlanta-area spas, it had been a year since there had been a large-scale shooting in a public place.
In 2018, the year that a gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there were 10 mass shootings where four or more people were killed in a public setting.
The following year, when a gunman targeting Latinos in El Paso, Texas, killed 22 people, there were nine.
“Those were the worst years on record,” said Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and a co-founder of the Violence Project, a research center that studies gun violence.
But before Tuesday’s horrifying attacks there had been no such killings since March 2020, when the pandemic forced most businesses, workplaces and schools to close, according to the Violence Project.
In early 2020, before the pandemic hit, there were two large-scale shootings, said Professor Peterson. In February, a gunman killed five of his co-workers at the Molson Coors campus in Milwaukee. The following month, a man killed four people at a gas station in Springfield, Mo.
Still, other types of gun violence increased significantly in 2020, according to Gun Violence Archive, which researches shootings. There were more than 600 shootings in which four or more people were shot by one person compared with 417 in 2019.
Many of those shootings involved gang violence, fights and domestic incidents, where the perpetrator knew the victims, Professor Peterson said. The early research suggests that widespread unemployment, financial stress, a rise in drug and alcohol addiction, and a lack of access to community resources caused by the pandemic contributed to the increase in shootings in 2020.
At the same, the news media’s focus on the coronavirus and the lack of high-profile mass shootings may have removed another contributing factor: the tendency of gunmen to mimic other killers who gain notoriety, Professor Peterson said.
She said that scholars were now worried that the intense attention on the Georgia shootings could contribute to an increase in similar crimes
“There had been a hope that maybe we broke the cycle and maybe we won’t return,” Professor Peterson said. “Now that it’s back, a number of scholars are really concerned.”
In early February, Asian-American community leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area organized protests after the killing of an older Thai man and a spate of attacks in Oakland’s Chinatown. Prosecutors, politicians and police chiefs called the attacks intolerable and vowed to crack down.
But in the weeks that followed, reports of violence against people of Asian descent have multiplied in the Bay Area. In many cases attacks have come in broad daylight on busy streets.
This week alone in San Francisco three Asian people were attacked on downtown streets, including a 75-year-old Chinese grandmother and a 83-year-old Vietnamese man.
The assaults have followed a disturbing pattern: images circulate on social media of battered faces, police departments say they are searching for motives and victim’s families post pleas for assistance paying for medical bills.
Danny Yu Chang, a 59-year-old travel agent from the Philippines, described returning to his office after lunch on Monday in the financial district and being clobbered on the back of the head. “When I fell down, he continued to beat me,” Mr. Chang wrote of his attacker on a GoFundMe page he set up.
The police arrested a suspect, Jorge Devis-Milton, 32, who is also accused of slashing a 65-year-old white man on the same day.
“After this incident I am no longer comfortable living in California and will need to look for another safe place to stay,” Mr. Chang said.
Ngoc Pham, the 83-year-old Vietnamese man, was grocery shopping in one of the busiest parts of San Francisco, when he was attacked by a 39-year-old man whom the police identified as Steven Jenkins.
According to the police, the assailant was chased by a security guard and while being pursued punched the 75-year-old woman, whom a local television station identified as Xiao Zhen Xie. Video in the immediate aftermath of the assault shows Ms. Xie bloodied and telling officers and bystanders about her attacker. “One big punch came down on me,” she said in Cantonese, wailing in distress.
“Investigators are working to determine if racial bias was a motivating factor in the incident,” the San Francisco Police Department said in a statement.
The attacks come amid an increase in gun violence and murders in the Bay Area that criminologists have linked to the pandemic.
The police in San Francisco this week also arrested three men accused of robbing a 67-year-old Asian man in a laundromat last month. Images of the attack were captured on security cameras and widely circulated on social media.
Monthanus Ratanapakdee, the daughter of a Thai man killed in San Francisco in January, says she does not let her mother out of the house anymore because the streets are too dangerous to walk alone. “I’m scared,” Ms. Monthanus said.
ATLANTA — A year ago, Thanh Bui lived in Minneapolis when George Floyd was killed by police officers there. He saw the way the killing so deeply affected his girlfriend, who is Black, and many of his friends.
He was angry then, he said, but now he really understands how they felt, after a gunman targeted massage businesses in and around Atlanta, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
“Right now, I’m fighting to find some peace,” Mr. Bui, who is Vietnamese, said in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon, after he brought small bouquets of flowers to two of the spas in a strip of storefronts.
Mr. Bui, 25, was not alone in being drawn to the scene of the violence. Some stopped to pray. Some came to protest. Some just came, pulled by a mix of curiosity, anger, anguish and disbelief. There were messages handwritten in marker on ripped pieces of cardboard — “Rest In Peace, beautiful angels” — and supermarket roses that still had a reduced-price sticker on the cellophane.
The displays might have been modest, yet that did not diminish the hurt and confusion they were meant to convey. Many of the people who trickled through expressed a particular pain that the attacks had happened in Atlanta. The city envisions itself as a haven for diverse communities; there is a sense that it thrives because of the culture, food, ideas and ambitions that have been imported here from around the South, the country and the world.
“God bless diversity,” one poster said.
“Black and Asian solidarity,” said another.
Most of the people at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa on Thursday did not know the women killed there. But they knew the climate. They knew the antipathy that existed toward Asian-Americans — a sentiment that they considered inextricable from the attacks, no matter what the police said of the suspect’s motivations.
Meg Ermer, 19, stopped by with her sister on a trip from Chattanooga, Tenn. She had heard taunts against Asian-Americans in high school — about eating dogs or spreading the coronavirus. “People think it’s just jokes,” she said.
But those jokes, she believed, had given root to something more sinister, and she wanted to see the evidence for herself. “I think people’s attitudes need to change for their actions to change,” she said.
Woojin Kang and Min Woo Nam, graduate students of theology at Emory University in Atlanta, held signs outside one of the spas for hours. Passers-by honked and waved their fists out of car windows in solidarity. “This is more than a crime scene,” Mr. Kang, 27, said. “We need to stand on these grounds.”
They hoped that the violence might cause others to understand what the Asian-American community has had to confront. “We all need to lament together,” Mr. Kang said, “to scream out together.”
“Look,” he said, with disappointment, gesturing to a parking lot outside of the spa where he and Mr. Nam had, for a long stretch, been the only ones there with posters. But a few minutes later, a few dozen people marched up the street, chanting, “Justice! Now!”
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.