Robert Aaron Long, the suspected gunman in three attacks that killed eight people Tuesday, has confessed to the crime, police said in Atlanta.
Six women of Asian descent are among the dead, raising suspicions of a hate crime. Long claims race did not play a role in his decision to target the massage parlors, police said.
Long, 21, "may have frequented some of these places in the past," Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said, after saying that the suspect indicated to investigators that he has a sexual addiction.
Long was arrested within hours of the attacks on the three spas, after police tracked his vehicle on the interstate in south Georgia. He is now charged with murder and assault and is being held without bond.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, only half of the victims had been publicly identified.
The sheriff's office in Cherokee County identified the victims who were killed there as:
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth;
Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta;
Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw;
Daoyou Feng, 44, (unknown address)
In addition, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth was injured, the agency says.
Atlanta police say they're not yet identifying victims from the two shootings there; a representative says the department is still working to identify them.
Long claims attacks were 'not racially motivated'
The shootings at three spas took place against a backdrop of discrimination and violence against Asian Americans that has increased sharply in the past year.
Responding to questions of whether the shootings might represent a hate crime, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said, "We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment."
"[Long] does claim that it was not racially motivated," Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said, while cautioning that it's still early in the investigation.
"He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations ... [as] a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate."
"This was a tragic day, with many victims," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. At a late-morning news conference, she said the businesses targeted in Atlanta had not been on the city's radar as potential sites of crime or trouble.
"We are not about to get it into victim blaming, victim shaming here," Lance Bottoms said. "We don't know additional information about what his motives were, but we certainly do not begin to blame victims."
The shocking violence could have been worse, Lance Bottoms said, noting that when he was arrested, Long was heading to Florida, where he seemed to be planning to carry out other, similar attacks.
Reynolds said his county is mostly a bedroom community, which had just one murder in the past year. "We don't have a lot of crime in that area," he added.
Long was initially identified through video surveillance footage from one of the crime scenes, the sheriff said. After his agency posted images to social media, Long's parents got in touch to say they believed it was their son in the pictures.
"They're very distraught and they were very helpful in this apprehension," Reynolds said.
Because of the family's tip, police were able to track Long's cellphone, which helped them narrow down his movements after the attacks.
Responses from the Asian American community
The group Stop AAPI Hate says it has received nearly 3,800 reports since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March. In the aftermath of the Atlanta attacks, officials in cities such as New York and Seattle said they would boost law enforcement's presence in Asian American communities.
On Wednesday, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta issued a statement saying that although details are still emerging, the broader context of racial tension in the U.S. cannot be ignored.
"While anti-Asian violence is woven throughout our nation's history, the Trump administration's relentless scapegoating of Asians for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased" those incidents, said the advocacy group, which is an affiliate of a national organization.
"We're calling on our allies across communities of color to stand with us in grief and solidarity against racist violence in all its forms," said Stephanie Cho, the Atlanta group's executive director.
How the attacks unfolded
The first attack targeted Young's Asian Massage in Acworth in Cherokee County northwest of Atlanta, where the sheriff's office said four people died and at least one other person was injured.
"The victims were two Asian women, a white woman and a white man," according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing Baker. A fifth victim, a Hispanic man, was taken to the hospital for his injuries.
Surveillance footage from a neighboring business appeared to show Long's Hyundai Tucson SUV entering the massage parlor's strip-mall parking lot around 4:50 p.m. ET. Long, 21, is from Woodstock, Ga., which is in Cherokee County.
The second and third attacks came about one hour later on Piedmont Road in Northeast Atlanta, where Atlanta police were alerted to a robbery at the Gold Spa.
When officers arrived at the spa, they found three women dead from gunshot wounds inside. While there, the officers got a new call of gunshots fired at the Aromatherapy Spa, almost directly across the street. When they entered that business, the officers found a fourth woman had been killed.
Long is arrested
From Atlanta, the suspected gunman fled to the south, as police spread the alarm to be on the lookout for his vehicle. As he drove south on Interstate 75, the authorities set a trap for him.
Around 8 p.m., Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said, his agency got word "that a murder suspect out of north Georgia was getting close to entering our county."
Some 30 minutes later, Georgia State Patrol troopers performed a maneuver on Long's SUV that caused it to spin out of control, Hancock said. The suspect was taken into custody without incident and taken to the county jail, he said. Long was later transferred back to Cherokee County.
"A 9mm firearm was recovered during the traffic stop" on Long's vehicle, the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said.
The FBI is assisting both Cherokee County and Atlanta police in handling the case, Kevin Rowson, a spokesman for FBI's Atlanta office, told NPR.
Long is expected to be arraigned Thursday morning.
This is a developing story. Some things reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.