Atlanta Police: Race probably not a factor in shooting but Asian-American community is on high alert

There were 3,800 incidents of crimes against Asian-Americans in the past year, advocacy group said

epa09080246 Flowers left by well-wishers sit at the entrance to Young's Asian Massage spa in Acworth, Georgia, USA, 17 March 2021. Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been apprehended in the shooting spree which left eight people dead at three metro Atlanta massage parlors, including seven women of Asian descent.  EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
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Six Asian women and two white men were killed in a mass shooting in Georgia on Tuesday.

Four of the victims have been identified:  Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias R Hernandez-Ortiz was identified as having been injured.

The gunman, who is white, is in police custody.

The shootings occurred at two massage parlours in the Atlanta area.

After an initial interview, local police say race may not have been the driving the factor in the killings.

“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sexual addiction and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places and it was a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” said Capt Jay Baker of the Sheriff’s Office in Cherokee County.

But Capt Baker cautioned it was still “early on” in the investigation.

There have been more than 3,800 incidents of violence and hate against Asian Americans since March 2020, according to the group Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, which was formed last year to chronicle incidents of hate and to raise awareness.

Atlanta's Asian-American community is reeling after Tuesday's shootings.

"I don’t believe words can really capture my emotions. The crime is horrific, shocking and really raises the awareness of Asian Americans and America to the rising hate crimes that are being committed against Asian Americans everyday," said Christopher Chan, the advisory board chair of the Georgia chapter of the Asian-American Action Fund, a committee that advocates for Asian-American and Pacific Islander political candidates.

In recent months, the full extent of crimes against Asian Americans has been made more clear by horrifying CCTV footage of incidents and the community rallying for support. Mr Chan believes yesterday's shootings may mark a change.

"The level of violence that was committed yesterday against Asian Americans serves as, I think, a defining moment for Asian Americans here to stand up, speak out and to strengthen the laws, the enforcement as well as the awareness of hate crimes," he said.

The Atlanta shootings prompted Vice President Kamala Harris, who is of South Asian descent, to speak out in support of the Asian-American community.

“I do want to say to our Asian-American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people, but knowing the increasing of hate crimes against our Asian-American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in face of any form of hate,” she said.

Former US president Barack Obama also reacted to the killings on Twitter.

“Even as we’ve battled the pandemic, we’ve continued to neglect the longer-lasting epidemic of gun violence in America. Although the shooter’s motive is not yet clear, the identity of the victims underscores an alarming rise in anti-Asian violence that must end,” he tweeted.

President Joe Biden is expected to comment on the shooting later on Wednesday.