Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) inveighed against “victim blaming” and “victim shaming” during a press conference on Wednesday morning about the apprehension of the man who police say admitted to a string of massage parlor massacres the day before.
According to Atlanta area law enforcement, Robert Aaron Long, 21, claims to have been motivated by a “sexual addiction” and was a former customer of similar businesses who viewed his victims as “targets of opportunity.” The admitted killer eschewed a racial motive for the eight murders that left six Asian women dead, police say, but stressed that their investigation is still in its earliest stages. A caucasian man and woman were also killed.
“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” a spokesperson for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said.
Pressed by local media to account for possibly prurient details about the locations where the violence unfolded, Bottoms adamantly disputed the framing of the male reporter’s question.
“We are not going to start blaming victims,” she said—adding that as far as she and city officials knew, the massage parlors attacked on Tuesday were legitimate businesses. The mayor noted that the locations in question had never been the subject of community complaints or any sort of law enforcement suspicion.
Sheriff Frank Reynolds said that during an initial interview “indicators” suggested Long “has some issues, possibly sexual addiction.” The sheriff himself added that the suspect “may have frequented these places in the past.”
But a sheriff’s department spokesperson later clarified that it is currently “unknown” whether he previously patronized the specific locations that were targeted.
“We’re mostly a bedroom community,” Reynolds noted during the press conference. “We don’t have a lot of crime. Last year we had one murder. So, this was a shock to us.”
Bottoms referred to the incident as “targeted violence” and stressed that “a crime against any community is a crime against us all.”
Long was apprehended hours after the shootings via what appears to be somewhat seamless collaboration between various law enforcement agencies and citizens in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Cherokee County Sheriff’s deputies received call at around 4:50 p.m. about a shooting with multiple victims. Footage from one of the businesses was released that contained an image of the possible suspect. Soon thereafter, law enforcement received word from the people claiming to be Long’s family that the suspect was possibly their son. Deputies then began tracking his cell phone and coordinated with the Georgia State Patrol to intercept the suspect in way that would have prevented a highway pursuit.
According to a spokesperson for the Georgia State Patrol, a trooper observed the suspect’s vehicle traveling south and called it in as they waited for backup. Officers then initiated a traffic stop and “pitted the vehicle,” easily apprehending Long “without further incident.” Authorities said they “made contact with the suspect” around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Bottoms also noted that Long was allegedly “on his way to Florida, perhaps to carry out further shootings” and said that but for the quick response from the community and law enforcement, “there could have been more victims.”
The sheriff’s department echoed that assessment, saying there was some suggestion that Long wanted to travel to Florida in order to perhaps target the pornography industry or massage parlors there.
One question that repeatedly came up during initial media reporting and during Wednesday’s press conference was Long’s potential racial motivation.
“Many of the victims, a majority of the victims, were Asian,” the mayor said in response to a question about a nationwide trend of anti-Asian hate crimes. “We know this is happening across the country. This is unacceptable. It is hateful. It has to stop.”
Law enforcement, however, were reticent to make that connection.
“We are still early in this investigation,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney N. Bryant said in response to a question as to whether the shootings qualified as a hate crime. “So, we cannot make this determination at this moment. We are just not there as of yet.”
Reynolds fielded a similar question and gave a similar answer.
“It may not be,” he said. “It may be targets of opportunity. He frequented these places in the past. He may have been lashing out.”
“We asked that question and it may not be the motive,” a spokesperson added. “He made the claim that it was not racially motivated.”
Long’s arraignment is currently scheduled for Thursday. The investigation into Long’s motivations and his claims about them is ongoing.
[images via screengrab/Atlanta Police Department, Crisp County Jail]
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