By Lucia Leal
Washington, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- The suspect in the deadly shootings this week at three Asian massage parlors in Atlanta denied having a racist motive for the attacks and blamed the massage parlors for his own “addiction to sex,” local authorities said on Wednesday.
The shootings, which left eight people dead, including six women of Asian origin, have revived the debate in the US about the growing number of hate attacks against Americans with Asian roots, a total of 3,800 of which have been reported nationwide since the coronavirus pandemic began, keeping in mind that the virus appears to have originated in China.
Authorities have not ruled out that the shootings could constitute hate crimes and are continuing to investigate what happened, but on Wednesday they revealed that the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, had denied that there was any “racial motivation” behind his actions.
Long, 21, had frequented the massage parlors prior to the attacks and Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds confirmed this at a Wednesday press conference, saying while “it may be targets of opportunity … We believe he frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out.”
And Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Jay Baker told reporters that the massage parlors, in effect, constituted “a temptation” that Long wanted to eliminate.
The suspect, who was arrested on Tuesday and questioned by authorities in the Atlanta metro area and by the FBI, has admitted that he committed the killings and is expected to be brought before a judge on Thursday.
Long bought the 9mm handgun he used in the shootings a few hours before the attacks and confessed to authorities that he was intending to travel to Florida to carry out more shootings, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms revealed at a press conference.
It is probable that there would have been more victims if Georgia state authorities had not arrested Long, she said.
Seven of the eight people who died in the Tuesday attacks were women, six of them of Asian origin, while the other two victims were white. An Hispanic man was also wounded in the shootings, although not seriously, authorities said.
President Joe Biden refused to discuss the suspect’s potential motive but he said that the attack had sparked fear among Americans of Asian origin, who have been the targets of a wave of racist insults and attacks since the pandemic began.
“Whatever the motivation here, I know Asian Americans … are very concerned – because as you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans, and it’s troubling,” said President Joe Biden at the White House.
Asians have been stigmatized in many cases due to the fact that the coronavirus was detected originally in China, according to a report published Tuesday by the Stop AAPI Hate organization.
Many groups and coalitions of US citizens of Asian origin on Wednesday acknowledged that the multiple attack had increased their fears for their own safety, while others said that the incident shows the risks of making women with Oriental roots into “exotic objects.”
“We are horrified and continue to be concerned for the safety of our community members across the country as violence toward Asian Americans has escalated,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, in a statement.
She called on elected officials in Georgia to “speak up immediately against hate and violence directed at the Asian American community.”
Vice President Kamala Harris also emphasized the need to show “solidarity” with the US Asian-origin community and not to keep silent about any form of hatred, adding “We’re not yet clear about the motive. But 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.”
The incident also motivated former President Barack Obama to ask that the debate in the country about gun control be revived to stem the increase in mass shootings, at least 70 of which have occurred so far this year, 50 percent more than during 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“Yesterday’s shooting(s) are another tragic reminder that we have far more work to do to put in place commonsense gun safety laws and root out the pervasive patterns of hatred and violence in our society,” the former president said in a statement.
“Michelle and I pray for the victims, their families, everyone grieving these needless and devastating killings – and we urge meaningful action that will save lives,” Obama added.