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Biden orders flags at half-staff for victims of Atlanta shootings

Biden orders flags at half-staff for victims of Atlanta shootings
A makeshift memorial of flowers accumulated Thursday outside the Gold Spa, one of the sites of a deadly shooting spree at Atlanta-area spas that killed eight people. Photo by Tami Chappell/UPI | License Photo

March 18 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff in honor of the eight people killed in a series of shootings at Atlanta-area spas this week.

He issued a proclamation saying flags at all public buildings, grounds, military and diplomatic posts must be flown at half-staff through sunset Monday.

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"To the loved ones of those we lost on Tuesday, know the nation mourns with you," Biden said Thursday in a tweet announcing the decision.

Robert Aaron Long, who police say confessed to all three shooting attacks, was supposed to be arraigned in Cleveland County court Thursday but the hearing was canceled after a request from Long's attorney.

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It wasn't initially reported when a new arraignment hearing might occur.

Formal charges were filed against Long on Wednesday. He faces eight counts of murder for all the dead victims and one count of aggravated assault for injuring a man at Young's Asian Massage in Acworth. The other attacks occurred at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa, both located in northeast Atlanta.

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Investigators say Long admitted to being the gunman in all three attacks, which occurred within close proximity to one another and all were reported to police within an hour.

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Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton told reporters Thursday afternoon that police were working to determine a motivation for the shootings.

Speaking specifically of the four unnamed victims at the two spas in Atlanta, he said: "We had four Asian females that were killed, and so we are looking at everything to make sure we discovery and determine what the motive of our homicides were."

Six of the eight victims were of Asian descent, fueling suspicion the shootings were racially motivated or connected to increasing attacks against Asian Americans related to anger over the COVID-19 pandemic. Two of the dead were White and the survivor is a Hispanic man. The South Korean government said four of the victims were of Korean descent.

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According to investigators, Long told police the shootings weren't racially motivated but were instead fueled by a sex addiction. The indication, authorities said, is that Long went on the shooting spree because he often frequented such massage parlors and wanted to break his habit.

"It was something that absolutely would torture him," Tyler Bayless, who knew Long from an addiction recovery group and said he was deeply religious, told CNN. "He would often go on tangents about his interpretation of the Bible."

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Hampton said Long may have frequented the three spa locations targeted in the shootings. He said he's not prepared to take a stance on whether the shootings should be considered hate crimes.

"Again, it's very important to let you know that we are not done. In most cases of homicides, we don't have a quick apprehension, there's usually a lengthy investigation, especially when it involves multiple victims, and we're working diligently to ascertain all the facts so we can have a successful prosecution, and that's what is most important now."

Investigators were looking into Long's background, which includes being active in his Southern Baptist congregation. CNN reported Wednesday that officials were investigating reports that Long had been kicked out of his parents' home the night before the attacks.

Long told investigators that he considered suicide, but opted instead to "help" others with sexual addictions by attacking the Atlanta spas -- presumably to remove the temptation, CNN's report said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told reporters that it appears Long was headed south to Florida when he was captured, possibly to target similar places of business there.

It is believed that the 9mm handgun that Long used in the attacks, which he bought the day before the shooting spree, was purchased legally.

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Some people who knew Long and a post to his now-deleted Instagram account indicated that he also had a passion for firearms, CNN reported. The page purportedly included the passage, "Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life."

Mourners placed flowers and other items at all three spa locations on Wednesday to honor the victims. Similar events and gatherings were seen across the United States, from New York City to Los Angeles.

"They deserved better than this," Cherokee County resident Cindy Anderson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "These people were just coming to work ... just like they do every day."

"I don't believe [it]," Rita Barron, who owns a business next door to Young's Asian Massage, told the newspaper. "One day I saw them, and the next they're not here anymore."

Police have identified the victims who were shot at the Acworth spa, but those from the two spas in midtown Atlanta have not yet been named. Those killed in the earlier attack were Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michaels, Xiaojie Tan and Delaina Ashley Yaun.

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