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Atlanta Police Search for Motive in Spa Murders as Asian Americans Decry Attacks

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Homicide detectives on Thursday weighed in on the possible motives of a gunman accused of killing several Asian women at spas in the Atlanta area, as a U.S. lawmaker said the Asian community- Americans are “bleeding” from recent attacks of violence and discrimination.

Robert Aaron Long was jailed on murder charges of four people at a two -day spa in Atlanta and four other victims at a massage parlor in Cherokee County, about 40 miles (64 km) north of the state capital, on Tuesday. The four victims in Atlanta and two of those killed in Cherokee County were women of Asian descent.

“There’s nothing on the table for our investigation,” Deputy Chief of Police Charles Hampton said at a news conference in response to a question about whether police view murder as possible hate crimes.

“We have four Asian women who have been murdered, and so we are looking into everything to make sure that the motive of our murders can be discovered and determined,” she said.

Investigators determined that Long had previously visited the same spa in Atlanta where he was accused of opening fire with a 9mm gun he had purchased earlier in the day.

Investigators said Long, a 21-year-old Atlanta resident who is white, suggested to them that sexual frustration led him to commit violence. Many political leaders and civil rights advocates speculate that the killings have somehow fueled rising anti-Asian sentiment since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Joe Biden ordered the unfurling of the U.S. flag on half -staff at the White House to honor victims of intimidation on Tuesday. He and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Atlanta on Friday to offer support to the Asian-American community.

In Washington, U.S. lawmaker, professor and actor Daniel Dae Kim said the Asian-American community is reeling from a year of increased attacks and discrimination against Asians.

“Our community is bleeding, we are hurting and in the last year we have been crying out for help,” Democratic Representative Grace Meng, who hails from Taiwan, told a small House of Representatives committee on Thursday.

The Georgia killing prompted police departments to intensify patrols and visibility in Asian-American communities across the country, including New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco.

The incidence of hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 149% in 2020 in 16 major cities compared to 2019, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Civil rights advocates have linked the increase in incidents to the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China. Some Americans, including former Republican President Donald Trump, have begun calling the coronavirus “China virus,” “the plague in China” and even “if flu.”

Hampton said Long enjoyed both the establishments raided in Atlanta, the Gold Spa beauty salon and an aromatherapy spa on the street, but it’s unclear if he “specifically targeted” any of the victims in those two businesses.

Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department Captain Jay Baker said Wednesday that Long confessed to the shootings and indicated he had a sex addiction and “wanted to remove” the temptation representative of the establishments on him.

A former roommate who spent several months living with Long in a half -house for recovering addicts told Reuters Long, who was treated for sex addiction, was “deeply religious” and would be “very emotional. who was upset that she visited “spas for” explicit sexual activity. “

Long was on his way to Florida when he was arrested, presumably to conduct further hunting, authorities said.

Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace issued a statement Thursday saying “much investigation and prosecution work will remain ahead” and vowing to “prosecute this case to the full extent of the law.”

Long is scheduled to do his preliminary court hearing in Cherokee County on Thursday, but the hearing was canceled after he waived his right to a trial, according to a statement from his attorney.

The lawyer, Daran Burns, said his firm was appointed to represent Long by the county’s Office of Indigent Defense, and Burns met his client in the county jail on Wednesday.

Burns did not mention Long’s guilt or innocence, but said his firm would “conduct a thorough investigation on behalf of our client.”

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice in Washington and Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, NJ, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Daniel Trotta in Vista, Calif., And Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Written by Nathan Layne and Cynthia Osterman; Edited by Noeleen Walder, Michael Perry, Sonya Hepinstall and Lincoln Feast.)

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