At least eight people were killed in a series of shootings at a massage parlour and two spas in the Atlanta area, attacks that fuelled concern about violence against Asian-Americans in the US.
Law enforcement officers in Georgia arrested a 21-year-old man in connection with the shootings on Tuesday night. Police said the attacks appeared to be co-ordinated and described six of the eight victims as Asian women or women of Asian descent.
Police did not attribute any motive, but the attack raised fears that it might have been driven by hatred and bias against Asian-Americans, which has soared since the start of the pandemic last year.
“The reported shootings of Asian-American women on Tuesday in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community — which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination,” Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group that fights xenophobia against Asian-Americans, wrote on Twitter.
“Few details have been released, including whether or not the shootings were related or motivated by hate. But right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian-American community that must be addressed,” it added.
According to local police, the first shooting took place around 5pm at a massage parlour in Cherokee county, north of Atlanta, leaving four people dead, including two described by local police as Asian women. Later, another four people, who were also described as Asian women by local police, were shot dead in two day spas across the street from each other in the city of Atlanta.
Robert Aaron Long, of Cherokee county and the main suspect in the attacks, was arrested in Crisp county in southern Georgia.
“My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives. Once again we see that hate is deadly. Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community,” Raphael Warnock, the Democratic senator from Georgia, wrote on Twitter.
“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence. We deeply appreciate the quick apprehension of a suspect by @ga_dps [Georgia’s department of public safety] in co-ordination with local and federal law enforcement,” said Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican governor.
Since coronavirus, labelled the “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” by former president Donald Trump and his top officials, spread in the US, episodes of violence and racial discrimination against Asian-Americans have escalated. A Stop AAPI Hate report released on Tuesday tracked 3,795 episodes of racially motivated hatred against Asian-Americans over the past year.
Last week, US president Joe Biden called out bigotry against Asian-Americans, saying many had been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” during the pandemic. “They are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong, it’s un-American and it must stop,” he said.