(Reuters) – Eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, were shot dead in a string of attacks on Atlanta-area day spas on Tuesday, and a man suspected of carrying out all of the shootings was arrested hours later in southern Georgia, police said.
Although authorities declined to offer a possible motive for the violence, the attacks prompted the New York Police Department’s counter-terrorism unit to announce the deployment of additional patrols in Asian communities there as a precaution.
The bloodshed in Georgia began about five pm local time when four people were killed and another was wounded in a shooting at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County, about 40 miles north of Atlanta, said Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department.
Two women of Asian descent were among the dead there, along with a white woman and a white man, Baker said, adding that the surviving victim was a Hispanic man.
In Atlanta, the state capital, police officers responding to a call of a “robbery in progress” shortly before 6 p.m. arrived at the Gold Spa beauty salon and found three women shot to death, Police Chief Rodney Bryant told reporters.
While investigating the initial shooting report, the officers were called to a separate aroma-therapy spa across the street where a fourth woman was found dead of a gunshot wound, Bryant said. All four victims slain in Atlanta were of Asian descent.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock in Cherokee County, was taken into custody at about 8:30 p.m. in Crisp County, about 150 miles (240 km) south of Atlanta. A photo of Long, who is white, was released by authorities.
Baker told Reuters by telephone that investigators were “very confident” that the same suspect was the gunman in all three shootings. A separate statement from the Atlanta Police Department said the suspect was connected to all the attacks by video evidence from the crime scenes.
Investigators were still working “to confirm with certainty” that the shootings in Atlanta and Cherokee County were related.
Long was spotted in southern Georgia, far from the crime scenes, after police in Cherokee County issued a bulletin providing a description and license plates of the vehicle involved in the attacks, Baker said.
He was arrested without incident after a highway pursuit by Georgia state police and Crisp County Sheriff’s deputies, who used a tactical driving maneuver to stop the suspect’s vehicle, sheriff’s officials said later.
Authorities said that a motive for the rampage was not immediately clear, and that it was not determined whether the victims were targeted because of their race or ethnicity.
But the NYPD’s counter-terrorism branch said on Twitter late Tuesday that although there was no known connection to New York City, the department “will be deploying assets to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution.”
The violence in Georgia unfolded days after U.S. President Joe Biden used a nationally televised speech to condemn a recent surge in hate crimes and discrimination against Asian-Americans. Civil rights groups have suggested that former President Donald Trump contributed to the trend by repeatedly referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus” because it first emerged there.
A spokesman for the Atlanta field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the agency was assisting police in Cherokee County and Atlanta.
Atlanta police said they were stepping up patrols around businesses similar to those attacked on Tuesday evening.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Vista, Calif., and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler, Lincoln Feast, Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle