This booking photo provided by the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office shows Robert Aaron Long on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Long was arrested as a suspect in the fatal shootings of multiple people at three Atlanta-area massage parlors, most of them women of Asian descent, authorities said.
Crisp County Sheriff’s Office | AP
A Georgia man has pleaded guilty on Tuesday to four murders related to the shootings at three metro Atlanta spas last March.
Robert Aaron Long is accused of killing eight people in the shootings, six of whom are of Asian descent, that took place in Cherokee County and Atlanta.
Long entered a guilty plea with the Cherokee County District Attorney’s office for 23 charges related to the shooting. His legal team negotiated for a plea of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The 22-year old is accused of killing Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng and Delaina Ashley Yaun-Gonzalez at a spa in Cherokee County. Another male, Elcias Rocendo Hernandez Ortiz, had severe injuries when he was shot in the face.
Long could still face execution if convicted in Atlanta for murdering four others at two spas there. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed a motion on Monday in Fulton County Superior Court to have Long transported to a Fulton jail before his arraignment on four other counts of murder and several other charges. This includes domestic terrorism, aggravated assault and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony.
Willis said she plans to pursue the death penalty and hate crime charges for Long. She plans to move quickly once Long’s hearing in Cherokee County is complete, according to NBC News.
“After Mr. Long concludes his hearing in Cherokee County, I want to ensure that the process in Fulton County proceeds as quickly as possible,” Willis said, according to NBC News. “The victims of the crimes Mr. Long is accused of committing in Fulton County deserve no less.”
The shootings occurred on March 16. Police have said that Long shot and killed four people, three of them women and two of Asian descent, at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County just before 5 p.m. A fifth person was also shot and wounded, according to investigators.
Long then drove south to Atlanta, where he shot and killed three women at Gold Spa before going across the street to Aromatherapy Spa and fatally shooting another woman, according to police.
The victims were Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim and Yong Yue.
In initial interviews with investigators, Long claimed to have a “sex addiction.” Authorities said he allegedly lashed out at the spa businesses that he viewed as a sexual temptation.
The spa shootings only fueled a surge in racially motivated hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, during the pandemic.
Racism targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is nothing new in the U.S., with federal policies that barred immigration from Asia until 1965. But a study published in March by the American Journal of Public Health suggests that former President Donald Trump’s use of the harmful political rhetoric about the coronavirus, such as the term “China virus,” helped spur anti-Asian rhetoric on Twitter and perpetuate racist attitudes.
The report analyzed hashtags on Twitter because they have been shown to “act as a predictor of the formation of hate groups and the occurrence of hate crimes.”
A report from Stop AAPI Hate that recorded hate incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic found that numbers spiked through March 2021, with hate incidents jumping from 3,795 to 6,603. This was the same month when the spa shooting occurred.
Hate incidents reported by women also make up nearly 65% of all hate incidents recorded up until March 2021, according to the report.
In an effort to curb hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Congress passed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act.
The legislation, which President Joe Biden signed into law in May, directs the Justice Department to expedite the review of hate crimes related to the pandemic.
The bill also aims to give local law enforcement more resources to track such incidents, and provide guidance on how to reduce discriminatory language related to Covid-19.