Robert Aaron Long, a self-identified Christian, has been arrested for allegedly killing eight people at two spas in Georgia.
Six of the victims were Asian women. Their deaths were being tied to an explosion of racist violence against Asian Americans. So far, four of the women have been identified as being of Korean descent.
CNN has identified some of the victims as:
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was listed as an “injured survivor” of the shooting.
Long took responsibility for the Atlanta spa shootings but denied his motives were racist, according to Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office.
“During his interview, he gave no indicators that this was racially motivated,” Sheriff Frank Reynolds said. “We asked him that specifically and the answer was no.”
Instead, Long pointed to an alleged sex addiction, which he reportedly blamed on the businesses. As law enforcement put it, Long was “at the end of his rope” and allegedly decided to “eliminate” the “temptation.”
“Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” the sheriff’s community relations lead Capt. Jay Baker told reporters. Baker, who raised brows with his characterization of the gunman’s killing rampage, also came under fire for reportedly promoting racist anti-Chinese shirts on his Facebook page.
Witness testimony contradicts Long’s denial of race being a factor in his alleged crimes. A witness to one of the shootings reportedly told a local Korean publication that he heard the gunman say “I’m going to kill all Asians.”
The spike in anti-Asian violence emerged under former President Donald Trump’s time in the White House. Despite outcry, Trump was adamant about using disparaging terms like “China virus” and “kung flu” when referencing the coronavirus (COVID-19).
In the past year, nearly 3,800 discriminatory incidents against Asians have been reported, according to Stop AAPI Hate. The rise in such crimes prompted one group of Christians to form the Asian American Christian Collaborative. The Asian American Christian Collaborative put out a statement last year condemning anti-Asian racism.
Asian Americans were reeling with shock, anger, and grief as details of the Atlanta spa shootings continued to unfold Wednesday, March 17. Many used the tags #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate as they spoke out on social platforms like Twitter.
Below, we highlight some of their responses.
One of the unsettling realities about the fact that the shooter was an active member of a White Evangelical church is that it makes people of Asian descent wonder if another Robert Aaron Long is sitting with them in the pews every Lord's Day.
— Timothy Isaiah Cho (@tisaiahcho) March 17, 2021
It is hard to express how dehumanizing it is to refer to these women – women who had hopes and dreams and struggles and frustrations and jokes and loves and rich inner lives that we will never know – as a "temptation".
— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) March 17, 2021
If your sympathy for the six Asian women and their families shrank as soon as you learned that the murderer's alleged sex addiction might have had something to do with the killings, please do some soul-searching. I don't care what they did. They were beloved children of God.
— Jeff Chu 朱天慧 (@jeffchu) March 17, 2021
As a Black and Japanese woman who works on intersectional equity, you can imagine how often I am asked to speak on the “tension” between the Black and Asian community. My answer is and remains the same: This is a false narrative. The “tension” is white supremacy.
— Aerica Shimizu Banks (@erikashimizu) March 17, 2021
To my fellow Asian community: I am so sorry. It hurts so much. Take time to mourn. We weep together. It's overwhelming. Not just today but this entire past year. Words can't articulate the deep pain so many of us have experienced. You're not alone. We see you, love you, need you.
— Eugene Cho (@EugeneCho) March 17, 2021
This is sooo heartbreaking…praying for our world. To my Asian American family, please take time to grieve but know youre loved, seen and IMPORTANT. We have to keep standing up, speaking out, rallying together and fighting for change. We cannot lose hope!! ❤️#StopAsianHate #NOW https://t.co/Xm4ojbJALw
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) March 17, 2021
I hope every white adoptive parent of an Asian kid is paying attention and deciding how to talk to their kids about racism. My white family long believed that my adoption = assimilation = protection. I've known this to be false since I heard my first slur at the age of 7.
— Nicole Chung (@nicolesjchung) March 17, 2021
Anti-Asian racism is so entangled with how the US has shaped itself that we forget whole communities many of us grew up in aren’t phantoms of history but in-the-flesh offspring of the trauma of war, displacement, and empire. Making us forget is white supremacy’s MO. #StopAAPIHate
— Mihee Kim-Kort 김미희 (@miheekimkort) March 17, 2021
Once again, let’s be absolutely clear: The use of deliberately blame-assigning phrases like “China virus” and “Kung Flu” incites violence against Asian Americans. Period. The recent surge in anti-Asian attacks was preventable before it was inevitable.
— Duke Kwon (@dukekwondc) March 17, 2021