The first court appearance for the man charged with killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in a series of shootings at Atlanta area massage parlors, reportedly has been canceled.
Robert Aaron Long was expected to be arraigned Thursday afternoon in Cherokee County, but The Washington Post, citing the county district attorney's office, said Long waived his right to appear, doing so in writing through his attorney.
Police said Wednesday they did not yet have a motive for the shootings. In addition to the six victims of Asian descent, a white man and a white woman were also killed. A ninth person remained hospitalized with injuries, police said.
Prosecutors Wednesday charged Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He was arrested after the Atlanta-area shootings late Tuesday and was being held in the Cherokee Country Adult Detention Center.
When he was arrested, Long told police the attacks were not racially motivated. He claimed to have issues with "sex addiction," authorities said.
The crime created a wave of fear in the Asian American community, which was already reeling from attacks that have occurred since the start of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. The virus first surfaced in China in December 2019.
The shootings appear to be at the "intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia," said state Representative Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House.
Nguyen has been a frequent advocate for women and communities of color in the state, the Associated Press reported.
"He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places. And it's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate," Cherokee County Sheriff's Captain Jay Baker told reporters.
Officials said they didn't know if Long actually frequented the parlors where the shootings occurred and said he may have been on his way to Florida to commit more shootings when he was arrested.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it was too early to classify the shootings as hate crimes.
Captain Baker was criticized on social media Wednesday for telling reporters that Long had "a really bad day" and for earlier Facebook posts that disparaged people of Asian descent.
In Facebook posts last March and April, Baker encouraged followers to buy an anti-Asian T-shirt that said the coronavirus was an "imported virus from Chy-na," repeating language similar to what then-U.S. President Donald Trump began to use after the outbreak began.
"Place your order while they last," Baker said in one of the Facebook posts that he has not commented on.
Flags at half-staff
President Joe Biden said he was withholding judgment about the motivation behind the shootings until there is more information.
"I am making no connection at this moment of the motivation of the killer. I am waiting for an answer from — as the investigation proceeds — from the FBI and from the Justice Department," he said before hosting a bilateral meeting with the prime minister of Ireland. "I'll have more to say when the investigation is completed."
Biden has ordered flags flown at half-staff through March 22 to honor the victims. He and Vice President Kamala Harris are scheduled to travel to Atlanta on Friday to meet with Asian American leaders.
Authorities have identified four of the victims as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Yan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Xiaojie Yan, 44, whose address is unknown.
Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was injured.
The other victims' names have not been released.
Reaction to shooting
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms condemned the carnage, saying, "A crime against any community is a crime against us all.
Harris said the shootings speak "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."
Former U.S. President Barack Obama used the event to call for "common-sense gun safety laws."
The first attack took place at a massage parlor in the town of Acworth, about 50 kilometers north of Atlanta. Authorities there said a shooter killed two Asian women, a white woman and a white man, and wounded another man.
About an hour later, police in Atlanta found three Asian women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at a beauty spa. They then found another Asian woman dead of a gunshot at a spa a short distance away.
Police said surveillance video showed the suspect's vehicle at all three locations, and that they were very confident the same shooter was responsible for all the attacks.
After a highway pursuit, police stopped a vehicle about 240 kilometers south of Atlanta and arrested Long.When the vehicle failed to stop, Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said, officers bumped the rear of Long's car, causing him to crash.
Long's parents helped authorities locate him by giving investigators his cellphone information, according to Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds.
Attacks against Asian Americans
The shootings come amid a rising number of attacks against people of Asian descent in the United States.
"I want to start by saying something directly to the families of the shooting victims in Atlanta last night," first lady Jill Biden said Wednesday. "My heart is with you. And I hope that all Americans will join me in praying for everyone touched by this senseless tragedy."
Hate crimes against Asian Americans jumped by 149% in 16 major U.S. cities from 2019 to 2020, according to a study released this month by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Overall hate crimes fell 7% during the same period.
The Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) said in a statement Thursday it "strongly condemns the increasing violence and rising hate incidents targeting Asian Americans in recent months" and called for a multi-faceted approach to address the disturbing trend.
The AACE urged governments at all levels to commit sufficient law enforcement resources to protect Asian Americans, begin investigations to identify causes of such attacks, and launch collaborative campaigns to improve education to discourage violence. The organization also called on politicians to "dissociate the pandemic with any ethnic groups because Asian Americans did not cause the COVID-19 pandemic."
The attack was the sixth mass killing this year in the United States, and the deadliest since the August 2019 Dayton, Ohio, shooting that left nine people dead, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.