The Southern Baptist church that counted the suspect in a series of deadly spa shootings as an active member said on Friday that the attacks were “the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind” and that it had begun the process of removing him from its membership.
“We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word,” the statement from Crabapple First Baptist Church, in Milton, Ga., said. It added, “The shootings were a total repudiation of our faith and practice, and such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the gospel.”
The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, was charged this week with eight counts of murder in the attacks on three massage parlors in and around Atlanta. A former roommate has described a “religious mania” that marked Mr. Long’s life in the years before the shooting spree. And the police have said that Mr. Long, 21, told them he had a sexual addiction, and that the shootings were an attempt to eliminate temptation.
Crabapple strictly prohibits sex outside of marriage, and Mr. Long had previously checked himself into a Christian rehab clinic to combat what he perceived as an addiction.
The church said that it was cooperating with law enforcement and that it deeply regretted “the fear and pain Asian-Americans are experiencing as a result of Aaron’s inexcusable actions.” Among the eight shooting victims were six women of Asian descent.
The church statement came amid several developments in the case on Friday, including the official identification of the four women who were killed in two Atlanta spas. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta, and community members held a vigil in memory of the shooting victims.
Newly revealed police records also showed that, between 2011 and 2014, Atlanta officers had arrested at least 11 people and charged them with prostitution-related offenses at one of those businesses.
The prostitution arrests were made after massage therapists at the business, Gold Spa in northeastern Atlanta, offered to perform sexual acts on undercover officers for money, Police Department records show. The officers were following up on anonymous tips, the department said.
The records, provided in response to a request from The New York Times, contradict what Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta said at a news conference this week: “As far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar, not on the radar of A.P.D.”
Elise M. Durham, a spokeswoman for the mayor, who took office in 2018, stressed that the mayor’s comment came just a day after the killings. “‘As far as we know’ is the operative piece of that sentence. Obviously this was less than 24 hours after the incident,” Ms. Durham said. “The most recent incident that we know of was in 2014, which obviously predates this administration by several years. As the investigation continues, we are continuing to find new information.”
Outside Gold Spa on Friday, a heap of memorial flowers was growing by the hour as people came to pray and stand on the sidewalk in solidarity. Students from Emory University held cardboard signs decrying racism. A dozen middle-age business owners came for a brief vigil.
- Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
- A torrent of hate and violence against Asian-Americans around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”
- In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
And then there was Chenmua Yang, 27, who could not shake the sight of the thick, rust-red spatters covering the spa’s window blinds as he stood outside the crime scene. He thought about how his mother was now too afraid to go grocery shopping alone, and about the scary moment a few months ago when a white man purposely knocked into Mr. Yang and told him to go back to his country.
“To look at this, it’s hard to put into words,” said Mr. Yang, a graduate student who moved from Wisconsin to Atlanta six months earlier. “It speaks to how far we have to go.”
As the community mourned the shooting victims, new details emerged about the arrest of Mr. Long, who was apprehended on Tuesday night on an interstate in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta. According to a police report, he asked authorities whether he was going to spend “the rest of his life” in jail.
Deputy Tara Herrick of the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office wrote that Mr. Long’s comments were captured on an officer’s body camera. He had been taken into custody after a Georgia State Patrol officer bumped his car, forcing it to turn sideways and come to a stop.
The authorities have said that Mr. Long told them he was on his way to Florida to commit more violence on a business tied to the pornography industry there.
The attacks on the spas have stoked a furious outcry over escalating anti-Asian violence and rhetoric. Anger was also directed at a Cherokee County sheriff’s deputy — who served as the agency’s spokesman for the investigation — for saying that Mr. Long had “a really bad day” before the shootings, and for anti-Asian Facebook posts that he made last year.
The deputy, Capt. Jay Baker, is no longer speaking on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office about the shooting, according to a spokeswoman for the county. The spokeswoman, Erika Neldner, said in a text message on Thursday that she would be taking over the communications duties in the case.
Neil Vigdor and Johnny Diaz contributed reporting.