A 21-year-old suspect described as a sex addict was charged with murdering eight people in spas around the US city of Atlanta, in triple attacks that have deeply shaken the Asian-American community.
Police said Robert Aaron Long has denied a racist motive to Tuesday’s attacks – in which six of the victims were women of Asian origin – but that they had yet to determine the shooter’s reason for opening fire.
“The suspect did take responsibility for the shootings,” Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Office told a news conference.
Long, who is white, “does claim it was not racially motivated,” Baker added, but stressed that it was “still early” in the investigation.
The suspect “apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction,” Baker said.
Long told police he had frequented massage parlors in the past and launched the attacks as a form of vengeance against “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
While a probe is ongoing into the motive, the attacks thrust the spotlight onto a spike in violence targeting Asian-Americans – fueled during the Covid-19 pandemic, activists believe, by talk of the “Chinese virus” by former president Donald Trump and others.
“Racially motivated violence must be called out for exactly what it is,” Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland — who is half-Korean – said.
“We must stop making excuses or rebranding it as economic anxiety or sexual addiction.”
The spotlight has also been thrust on the police leading the investigation – particularly on Captain Baker’s remarks that the alleged shooter had had a “bad day”.
Scrutiny has also focused on a post purported to be from Baker’s private Facebook account and shared by Buzzfeed showing him promoting T-shirts describing Covid-19 as an “imported virus” from China.
“We have lost so many lives this past year. We have seen racism and discrimination and a surge of violence against Asian-Americans who are scapegoated because of the pandemic,” Sam Park, a local representative of the Asian-American community, told AFP in Atlanta.
“It shocks the conscience,” he said of the attacks.
President Joe Biden, who spoke out last week against the spike in anti-Asian violence, once again called it “very troublesome” – while stressing that motivation in the Atlanta shootings had yet to be determined.