Asian women among eight killed at three spas in Georgia as hate crimes spike in the US
Police in the US state of Georgia confirmed that at least six Asian-American women were among eight people who were killed in attacks on three different spas in Atlanta.
According to BBC reports, authorities said four victims were found dead at a massage parlour in Acworth, a suburb north of Atlanta, and another four bodies were recovered in two different spas in the city.
As Covid-19 cases in the US continue to increase, Asian-Americans have been subjected to hate-crimes as they are being blamed for the pandemic, CNN reported.
Though authorities declined to offer a 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.
South Korea's foreign ministry said its consulate-general in Atlanta had confirmed that the victims included four women of Korean descent but was verifying their nationality.
The bloodshed began about 5pm on Tuesday when four people were killed and another was wounded in a shooting at Young's Asian Massage in Cherokee County, about 65km north of Atlanta, Capt Jay Baker of the Cherokee County sheriff's department said.
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 6pm arrived at the Gold Spa beauty salon and found three women shot dead, police chief Rodney Bryant told reporters.
While investigating the initial report, the officers were called to a separate aromatherapy spa across the street where another woman was found dead from a gunshot wound, Bryant said. All four women killed in Atlanta were of Asian descent.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was visiting South Korea on Wednesday, offered his condolences.
“We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere,” Blinken told South Korean foreign minister Chung Eui-yong.
The violence unfolded days after US President Joe Biden used a nationally televised speech to condemn a 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.
“The president has been briefed overnight about the horrific shootings in Atlanta. White House officials have been in touch with the mayor’s office and will remain in touch with the FBI,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.
SUSPECT IN CUSTODY
Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock in Cherokee County, was taken into custody at about 8.30pm in Crisp County, about 240km south of Atlanta. A photo of Long, who is white, was released by authorities.
Baker told Reuters that investigators were “very confident” that the same suspect was the gunman in all three shootings. 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 licence 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, sheriff's officials said later.
Authorities said a motive for the shootings 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 that though 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”.
Atlanta police said they were stepping up patrols around businesses similar to those attacked on Tuesday.