Georgia police sought further clues on Thursday to the motive in the fatal shootings of eight people, six of them Asian women, at Atlanta-area spas, as Asian-American leaders testified to Congress about the proliferation of hate crimes targeting the group.
President Joe Biden ordered that the American flag be flown at half-staff at the White House to honor the victims of Tuesday's rampage, for which Robert Aaron Long has been charged with eight counts of murder at two spas in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County about 40 miles to its north.
Long, a 21-year-old white male, suggested to investigators that a sex addiction led him to violence. But authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the attacks were motivated at least in part by some other grievance, including anti-Asian sentiments.
"Our investigation is far from over and we have not ruled anything out," the Atlanta Police Department said in a statement on Wednesday night.
The shootings triggered an outcry from civil rights advocates and some political leaders, including Biden, who condemned a rise in incidents of anti-Asian discrimination and violence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China.
Lawmakers and civic leaders were testifying on Thursday morning before a House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee on the increase in anti-Asian discrimination and violence. The hearing had been scheduled prior to the shootings.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Atlanta on Friday to offer support to the Asian-American community.
Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department said on Wednesday that Long had confessed to the shootings and indicated he had a sex addiction and "wanted to eliminate" the temptation the establishments represented to him.
A former roommate who spent several months living with Long in a halfway house for recovering addicts told Reuters Long had been treated for sex addiction, was "deeply religious" and would become "very emotionally distraught that he frequented" spas for "explicitly sexual activity."
Officials said Long indicated he may have patronized the establishments he is accused of attacking with a 9mm gun, but authorities could not immediately confirm whether he had been a customer and whether he visited them for sex.
A report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism this month showed that hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 major U.S. cities rose by 149% from 2019 to 2020, a period when overall hate crimes dropped 7%.
South Korea on Wednesday said its consulate-general in Atlanta confirmed that the dead included four women of Korean descent but was verifying their nationalities.
Some details have begun to emerge about Long. He graduated from an Atlanta-area high school in 2017 and attended a nearby Baptist church. An inactive Instagram account that appeared to have been his bore the tagline: "Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life," according to The Daily Beast.
Long legally purchased the suspected murder weapon at a sporting goods store in Holly Springs, Georgia, CNN reported, citing an attorney for the company.
Outside the Gold Spa, one of the businesses where the shootings occurred, people left flowers and candles to remember the victims. Fred Morris, who works at another business nearby, said on Wednesday evening he doubted that sex addiction was the motive and voiced concerns about attacks against people of Asian descent.
"It needs to be stopped," Morris said.
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