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8 dead in shootings at 3 Atlanta massage parlors; suspect in custody

8 dead in shootings at 3 Atlanta massage parlors; suspect in custody
Suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, was arrested and booked by the Crisp County Sheriff's Office. Photo by Crisp County Sheriff's Office/EPA-EFE

March 16 (UPI) -- A suspect is in custody after at least eight people were killed and two were injured in a series of shootings Tuesday at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area that could be connected, police said.

The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said that Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., was identified as the suspect in a shooting at Young's Asian Massage Parlor near Acworth, where four people were killed and one was injured, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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Long was captured in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, after he was seen on surveillance footage wearing a red and black hoodie and driving a 2007 black Hyundai SUV.

The shooting took place at around 5 p.m. Tuesday, with two people declared dead at the scene and two more dying after being hospitalized for injuries.

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Less than two hours later, four more people were killed in shootings at two separate massage parlors located near one another on Piedmont Road.

Capt. Jay Baker of the sheriff's office said "it does appear it's the same suspect" in all three shootings.

Atlanta police said the four victims on Piedmont Road appeared to be Asian women and all three spas are primarily staffed by Asians. They did not say whether the victims were employees or customers at the spas.

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"Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence," Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted, thanking the Georgia Department of Public Safety for its "quick apprehension" of the suspect.

"The president has been briefed overnight about the horrific shootings in Atlanta," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday. "[We] have been in touch with the mayor's office and will remain in touch with the FBI."

Cherokee County Sheriff's Office representative Howard Baker told CNN that deputies were called to Young's Asian Massage for reports of a shooting on Tuesday afternoon.

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Less than an hour later, Atlanta police said they responded to a robbery call at the Gold Massage Spa on Piedmont Road and a call at Aroma Therapy spa across the street.

The Crisp County Sheriff's Office said it later received information that the gunman was heading toward their county and made contact with him about a half-hour later.

Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said in a press conference that Georgia State Patrol troopers performed a PIT maneuver on the suspect's vehicle, which caused it to spin out of control.

"The subject was taken into custody without incident," he said.

The shootings occurred amid an increase in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans, and the New York City Police Department Counterterrorism Bureau said it was deploying officers to Asian communities in the city following the attacks.

"NYPDCT is monitoring the shooting of Asian Americans in Georgia," Martine Materasso, the department's assistant chief, tweeted Tuesday night. "While there is no known nexus to NYC we will be deploying assets to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution."

In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief of Police Adrian Diaz said in a joint statement Tuesday night that they will also be deploying additional police patrols and would be reaching out to Asian American communities and their organizations "to ensure we are doing all we can for them during this painful time."

"The violence in Atlanta was an act of hate," they said. "We grieve with Atlanta and for the victims and their families."

Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents of discrimination against Asians, said the shootings were a tragedy for the families of the victims but also for the Asian American community as a whole.

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"Few details have been released, including whether or not the shootings were related or motivated by hate," the organization said in a statement. "But right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed."

Stop AAPI Hate said in a report Tuesday that it received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents targeting Asian Americans between March 2020 and the beginning of this month. The hate is believed to be stirred from the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China.

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock said his "heart is broken" following the shootings.

"Once again we see that hate is deadly," he said in a tweet. "Praying for the families of the victims and for the community."

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