ACWORTH, Ga. — Eight people were shot to death at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday evening, the authorities said, raising fears
ACWORTH, Ga. — Eight people were shot to death at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday evening, the authorities said, raising fears that the crimes may have targeted people of Asian descent.
Six of the people killed were Asian, and two were white, according to law enforcement officials. All but one were women.
A suspect, identified as Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., was captured in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, after a manhunt, said the authorities, who had earlier released a surveillance image of a suspect near a Hyundai Tucson outside one of the massage parlors.
Although it was not clear whether there was a racial motivation in the shootings, Stop AAPI Hate, formed to prevent anti-Asian discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic, called them “an unspeakable tragedy” for both the victims’ families and an Asian-American community that has “been reeling from high levels of racist attacks.”
The Atlanta police initially characterized the shooting at one of the parlors in the city as a robbery in progress. The suspect in custody is white.
Four people died in the first shooting, at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, said Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. That shooting, in which a Hispanic man was injured, was reported around 5 p.m.
At 5:47 p.m., the Atlanta police said, officers responded to a robbery at Gold Spa in the northeast part of the city, where they found the bodies of three women with gunshot wounds. While the officers were at the scene, the police said, they received a report of shots fired at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where they found the body of another woman.
Debra and Gregory Welch, who live in the Piedmont Heights neighborhood, said it was usually quiet and peaceful, although they referred to the stretch where the shootings took place as the community’s “red-light district.” On the same block, near Cheshire Bridge Road, there is another massage parlor, a tattoo shop and a strip club.
“It’s for sure disturbing,” Mr. Welch said of the shootings, “but even more so if it’s related to an anti-Asian factor from the Covid pandemic.”
There have been nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents targeting Asian-Americans nationwide since last March, according to Stop AAPI Hate. The group said the shootings on Tuesday “will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian-American community continues to endure.”
In Seattle, the Police Department said on Tuesday night that it would increase patrols and outreach to support the city’s Asian-American community. The New York Police Department’s counterterrorism bureau said on Twitter that it would “be deploying assets to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution.”
The percentage of Asian-Americans in Georgia has increased in recent decades, and about 7.6 percent of residents in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, are of Asian descent.
“Once again we see that hate is deadly,” Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia said on Twitter.
An official from the South Korean Consulate in Atlanta, citing the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, confirmed on Wednesday that four of the eight killed were ethnic Koreans. But the nationalities of the four women were not immediately known, the official said.
Atlanta officials did not ask other massage parlors in the area to shut down as a precautionary measure, the police chief, Rodney Bryant, said at a news conference. But fear was palpable among some who work in the massage industry. A woman who answered the phone at Healing Massage Spa and identified herself as a manager said that after the shootings were reported on the news, her boss told her to close for the night.
About a 30-minute drive northwest of the Atlanta spas, Young’s Asian Massage is tucked in a modest strip mall, with a beauty salon on one side and a boutique on the other. Like much of suburban Georgia, it is a diverse place, with panaderias and Latin businesses and American-style chain restaurants.
On Tuesday night, the blue lights of police vehicles cast an eerie glow as detectives worked inside the spa.
Rita Barron, 47, the owner of Gabby’s Boutique next door, was with a group of onlookers standing near a used car lot. She said she had been with a customer when she heard noises through the wall that sounded like claps — and then women screaming.
She called 911, and soon saw victims being taken out by police officers.
Nearby, a wail of anguish went up from another cluster of people waiting for any news. Three dropped to the pavement, two of them embracing and shaking as they cried.
Richard Fausset reported from Acworth, Ga., and Neil Vigdor from Greenwich, Conn. Reporting was contributed by Sean Keenan from Atlanta; Azi Paybarah from Albany, N.Y.; Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio from New York; and Choe Sang-Hun from Seoul.