ACWORTH, Ga. — The man who police say went on a rampage at three spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people, was charged on Wednesday with eight counts of murder in connection with the attacks.
The brazen shootings, which took the lives of six women of Asian descent, stirred considerable outrage and fear in the Asian-American community. Investigators said they had not ruled out bias as a motivating factor even as the suspect denied such racial animus once in custody.
The suspect told the police that he had a “sexual addiction” and had carried out the shootings at the massage parlors to eliminate his “temptation,” the authorities said on Wednesday. He also said that he had frequented massage parlors in the past and launched the attacks as a form of vengeance. All but one of the victims were women, the police said.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta said that regardless of the determination about motive, the tragedy was clear.
“Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that the majority of the victims were Asian,” Ms. Bottoms said. “We also know that this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.”
The authorities charged Robert Aaron Long, 21, on Wednesday with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in connection with the shootings. Four of the murder counts and the assault charge stem from the first shooting, in Cherokee County, and the other four murder counts relate to the shootings at two spas in the city of Atlanta less than an hour later, the authorities said.
Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said that Mr. Long had told the police he was driving to Florida when he was caught after the shootings on Tuesday evening, and that he said he may have been trying to commit similar violence at a business connected to the “porn industry” there. He was stopped after his parents alerted the police that they believed their son might be the suspect, and the police were able to track his phone.
Sheriff Frank Reynolds of Cherokee County said the suspect may have “frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out.”
The police arrested Mr. Long, who is white, about 150 miles south of Atlanta after a manhunt, the authorities said. They had earlier released a surveillance image of a suspect near a Hyundai Tucson outside one of the massage parlors. Mr. Baker said that Mr. Long, of Cherokee County, had admitted to the shootings and that he appeared to be acting alone.
Rodney Bryant, the acting chief of the Atlanta Police Department, said it was not yet clear whether the shooting spree would be classified as a hate crime.
“We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment,” Chief Bryant said. “We are just not there as of yet.”
Four people died in the first shooting, at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, Mr. Baker said. That shooting, in which a Hispanic man was injured, was reported around 5 p.m.
At 5:47 p.m., the Atlanta police said, officers responded to a robbery at Gold Spa in the northeast part of the city, where they found the bodies of three women with gunshot wounds. While the officers were at the scene, the police said, they received a report of shots fired at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where they found the body of another woman.
A 911 caller who said she was hiding in the back of Gold Spa told the emergency operator that a “white guy” had a gun, according to audio recordings released by the Atlanta Police Department.
She was not sure where the gunman was, she told the operator, because she was hiding, and was unsure what he was wearing. “I don’t know,” she pleaded in response to questions. “Please just come.”
Six of the eight people killed in the shootings at Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday were women of Asian descent, raising fears that they could have been targeted because of their race, even as the police said it was too early to know.
On Wednesday, the police named the victims of the shooting at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Ga., as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44.
One person, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, was injured.
An official from the South Korean Consulate in Atlanta, citing the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, confirmed on Wednesday that four of the eight killed in the shooting spree were ethnic Koreans. But the nationalities of the four women were not immediately known, the official said.
Ms. Yaun was a customer at Young’s Asian Massage and had been planning a date night with her husband, her half sister, Dana Toole, said. She was killed, and her husband survived after locking himself in a nearby room as gunshots rang out, Ms. Toole said.
“He’s not OK,” Ms. Toole said about her sister’s husband. “He’s taking it hard.”
Ms. Yaun was one of four siblings who grew up in Acworth, and had worked as a server at a Waffle House restaurant. She raised a 13-year-old son as a single mother and had an 8-month-old daughter, Ms. Toole said.
“It was just all about family,” Ms. Toole said. “Whatever we’d do, we’d do it together.”
Now the shooting has left the family in shock.
“It doesn’t seem real. I expect to see her walking through the door any minute. It just hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” Ms. Toole said.
“My eyes hurt so bad because I’ve been crying so much,” she said. “It’s just hard right now for us to even think about moving forward, because she’s not here.”
Young’s Asian Massage is tucked in a modest strip mall, with a beauty salon on one side and a boutique on the other. Like much of suburban Georgia, the mall is a diverse place, with panaderias and Latin businesses and American-style chain restaurants.
On Tuesday night, the blue lights of police vehicles cast an eerie glow as detectives worked inside the spa.
Rita Barron, 47, the owner of Gabby’s Boutique next door, was with a group of onlookers standing near a used car lot. She said she had been with a customer when she heard noises through the wall that sounded like claps — and then women screaming.
She called 911, and soon saw victims being taken out by police officers.
Nearby, a wail of anguish went up from another cluster of people waiting for any news. Three dropped to the pavement, two of them embracing and shaking as they cried.
President Biden said on Wednesday that “the question of motivation is still to be determined” in the Georgia shootings, while renewing his concerns over a recent surge in violence against Asian-Americans.
Mr. Biden told reporters ahead of a virtual meeting with the Irish prime minister that he had been briefed by the attorney general and the F.B.I. director about the shootings, and that an investigation was ongoing.
“Whatever the motivation here,” he said, “I know Asian-Americans are very concerned. Because as you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian-Americans for the last couple months, and I think it’s very, very troubling. But I am making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer. I’m waiting for an answer from — as the investigation proceeds — from the F.B.I. and from the Justice Department. And I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed.”
In his first prime-time speech as president last week, marking a year of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Biden denounced “vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”
“At this very moment, so many of them — our fellow Americans — they’re on the front lines of this pandemic, trying to save lives, and still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” he said. “It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first Asian-American to hold the office, expressed condolences for the families of the victims during a meeting with Irish officials on Wednesday.
“This speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it,” Ms. Harris said, adding that the motive in the shooting was still unclear.
“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,” she added.
On Friday, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will meet in Atlanta with community leaders and state lawmakers from the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, a White House official confirmed on Thursday.
The president and vice president had already been scheduled to visit the city as part of a promotional tour for the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that Mr. Biden signed into law last week. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported details of the meeting with community leaders.
For years, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz had walked past the Young’s Asian Massage parlor outside Atlanta on his way to a money exchange business next door. On Tuesday afternoon, he was steps away when he encountered a gunman. Moments later, he desperately reached for his cellphone.
“I’ve been shot!” Mr. Hernandez-Ortiz told his wife, she later recalled. “Please come.”
He choked on the other end and the call dropped, his wife, Flor Gonzalez, said.
Mr. Hernandez-Ortiz survived a horrific shooting spree after a gunman targeted three spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night. Eight people died, the authorities said, including six of Asian descent, stoking fears of a rising tide of hate crimes.
Ms. Gonzalez, 27, recalled the phone conversation with her husband on Wednesday after visiting her husband at a hospital. She said she did not believe he was an intended target of the gunman.
Ms. Gonzalez said she rushed to the hospital on Tuesday and was unable to see her husband until after midnight. Doctors told her that he had been wounded in his forehead, throat, lungs and stomach. He underwent surgery Tuesday night.
“Doctors told me he had been very lucky, but that he was still very grave,” she said. “He was lucky that the bullet didn’t penetrate his brain.”
Ms. Gonzalez said she whispered words of encouragement and reminded her husband that next week the couple had been planning to celebrate their daughter’s 10th birthday.
“I pleaded with him to keep fighting and that he has a family,” she said. “He loves his daughter a lot. He’s always been a dedicated father, very loving.”
She said she felt his body jump, as if trying to respond to her. “He heard me,” she added. “I told him that we love him and to keep fighting.”
Mr. Hernandez-Ortiz, who goes by Alex, moved to Georgia from Guatemala more than 10 years ago, his wife said, and worked as a mechanic. They had been married just as long.
On Wednesday afternoon, a doctor called to tell Ms. Gonzalez that when her husband was asked to press the doctor’s hand, he did so, giving a sign that he is alert and will eventually recover.
“He’s still alive, he’s fighting for his life,” she said. “But the doctors told me that he will have a long recovery after he leaves the hospital.”
“Many others died,” she said holding back tears, “and my heart breaks for them. Whoever did this is not human.”
About 200 people on Wednesday night gathered in Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens, which is home to a large Asian-American population, to hold a vigil and raise awareness of reports of anti-Asian violence in New York City and across the country.
The vigil was for eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, who were killed in shootings at Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday night.
A diverse crowd holding candles huddled together near the 7 train as Donovan Richards, the Queens borough president, led them in chanting, “Stop the hate.” Members of the community spoke through tears as they appealed to end racial violence.
“I’m scared for every sex worker and street vendor, you can turn around and see them now,” Chuck Park, a Jackson Heights resident, told the crowd as he gestured toward Roosevelt Avenue, a bustling street full of restaurants, bars, salons and spas.
The number of hate crimes with Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department jumped to 28 in 2020 from just three in 2019, including attacks that took place in Flushing, a majority Asian neighborhood in eastern Queens. The events in Georgia served as another blow to a community that has felt targeted over the last year.
“We are so devastated and pained after what happened, knowing it’s a continuation of a long line of hate and violence against the Asian-American community,” said Shekar Krishnan, a Democrat running for City Council who organized the vigil as a community event. “We are here today to send a message that we will not be silenced. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
The man accused of killing eight people at three massage parlors around Atlanta was caught after his parents called the police and said they recognized their son in a surveillance image that had been released by the authorities, the police said on Wednesday.
The police said they had caught the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, as he was on his way to Florida to carry out similar violence on a business tied to the “porn industry.” They were able to track his phone after his parents called in the tip.
Mr. Long had been found with a 9-millimeter gun when he was stopped, the police said. Matt Kilgo, a lawyer for Big Woods Goods, a gun shop and shooting range in Canton, Ga., said Mr. Long had bought a gun legally from the shop on Tuesday before the shooting. He added that the store had not broken any laws and that it was cooperating with the authorities.
Mr. Long’s parents reported him missing in January 2019, according to police records from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. The couple told the police that their son, then 19, had gone to visit a girlfriend in Chattanooga, Tenn., but had not returned home and had sent them a text message saying that he was not coming back and wanted a “fresh start.”
The officer told the Longs that their son did not meet the criteria as a missing person.
Mr. Long was a member of the Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Ga., where records say he was a member of the church’s Student Ministry Team in 2018. A post on the church’s now-deleted Facebook page appears to indicate that he was baptized as an adult in 2018.
Brett Cottrell, the youth and missions pastor at Crabapple First Baptist between 2008 and 2017, described Mr. Long as one of the most committed members of the church’s youth group at the time. The group met multiple times a week and took summer trips to do volunteer work in Pittsburgh and New Orleans, among other locations.
“He was one of those core young men involved in everything we did,” said Mr. Cottrell, who said he was stunned to hear of what Mr. Long was accused of doing on Tuesday. “The other kids looked up to him, especially the young ones.”
Mr. Long wrote about his interests at the top of an Instagram account that appeared to be his.
“Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God,” he wrote. “This pretty much sums up my life.”
Two longtime neighbors of Mr. Long and his family said on Wednesday that he had a younger sister and that he went by Aaron. They said his parents had moved into the house next door in the woodsy neighborhood of Creek Hollow when Mr. Long was a young boy. He had graduated from Sequoyah High School in Canton, they said.
Cindy Hunnicutt, 64, a pastor at a nearby church, and her husband, Darrell Hunnicutt, said that Mr. Long had done yardwork and other tasks for them in the past and that he and his father liked to hunt deer. They recalled the younger Mr. Long practicing with his crossbow in the backyard.
Gender-motivated hate crimes make up only a tiny percentage of the hate crimes recorded by the F.B.I. — 0.7 percent in 2018, the most recent year listed on the agency’s website, compared with 57.5 percent deemed to have been motivated by racial bias that year.
But increasingly, organizations that study and track hate groups and violence have warned of a phenomenon called “male supremacy terrorism,” driven by aggrieved male entitlement and a desire to preserve traditional gender roles.
So-called involuntary celibates — or incels — have been banned from social media platforms for threatening violence against women. In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism began to track male supremacist ideology, and the Anti-Defamation League published a report called “When Women are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy.”
According to a brief by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, the ideology’s two core beliefs are that “men are entitled to sexual access to women,” and that “feminists are a malevolent force controlling society at the expense of men.”
Both beliefs have been used to justify violent incidents such as mass shootings at yoga and fitness studios frequented by women, the slaughter of 10 people in Toronto in 2018, and the 2011 shooting deaths of 77 people in Norway by Anders Breivik, who was widely portrayed as a far-right nationalist but who viewed feminism as a significant threat.
Name-calling, shunning and assault were among the nearly 3,800 hate incidents reported against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide over the last year, according to Stop AAPI Hate.
Stop AAPI Hate was formed in March of last year to prevent discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic. The group collects data on hate and harassment incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
In a report released on Tuesday, the group said it had received reports of 3,795 incidents between March 19 and Feb. 28. But it said the number could be higher because not all incidents are reported.
The report was released the same day that eight people, six of them Asian, were fatally shot at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. Stop AAPI Hate called the shootings “an unspeakable tragedy” for the victims’ families and an Asian-American community that has “been reeling from high levels of racist attacks.”
It said the shootings “will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian-American community continues to endure.”
The incidents compiled by AAPI Hate included mostly verbal harassment and name-calling, or about 68 percent of those reported, while shunning, or the deliberate avoidance of Asian-Americans, composed about 20 percent. About 11 percent of the reports involved physical assault, the report said.
Activists and elected officials say attacks were fueled early in the pandemic by former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language to refer to the coronavirus.
Stop AAPI Hate said in its report that some of the people who reported hate incidents said they were spat at or coughed on. One person, a Pacific Islander, reported that while speaking Chamorro at a Dallas mall a woman coughed and said, “You and your people are the reason why we have corona.” She then said, “Go sail a boat back to your island,” according to the group.
Chinese people composed the largest ethnic group (42.2 percent) that reported experiencing hate events, followed by Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos.
Most of the incidents took place against women, in businesses and on public sidewalks or streets, the report said. But the events included civil rights violations such as workplace discrimination or refusal of service and online harassment.
A memo published by the Asian American Journalists Association on Wednesday noted that anti-Asian racism was complex and “has remained historically invisible.”
The statement, released by the association’s MediaWatch committee, said that journalists should be careful not to use language “that could fuel the hypersexualization of Asian women, which has been linked to violence and discrimination.”
A sheriff’s deputy will no longer serve as his agency’s spokesman for the investigation into the Atlanta-area spa shootings after he drew criticism for saying that the suspect in the attacks had “a really bad day” before the shootings, and for anti-Asian Facebook posts that he made last year.
The deputy, Capt. Jay Baker, was no longer speaking on behalf of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office on 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.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Captain Baker discussed the frame of mind of the man charged with eight counts of murder in Tuesday’s shootings. He said that the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., had understood the gravity of his actions when he was interviewed by investigators.
“He was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope,” Captain Baker said. “Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
The comments were widely panned on social media, with critics characterizing them as callous and pointing to Facebook posts from March 30 and April 2 of last year by Captain Baker, in which he promoted sales of an anti-Asian T-shirt. The shirts, echoing the rhetoric of President Donald J. Trump, referred to the coronavirus as an “imported virus from Chy-na.”
“Place your order while they last,” Captain Baker wrote at the time in one of the posts. He did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday and Thursday.
State Senator Michelle Au of Georgia said that Captain Baker’s remarks about the suspect illustrated how law enforcement treated crimes against certain groups differently, and that his Facebook posts were an example of casual, open racism toward Asian-Americans.
“It’s not treated the way that other forms of racism are,” she said in an email. “It’s more accepted, it’s more palatable, it’s more tolerable for large swaths of the population.”
On Thursday, the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, a nonprofit group, demanded that Captain Baker be removed from his job. “These racist social media posts that have now been shared have been on his page for almost a year,” the group wrote on Facebook, “and it took a mass shooting to bring them to light.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Cherokee County sheriff, Frank Reynolds, defended Captain Baker, saying that he did not intend to disrespect any of the victims or express “empathy or sympathy” for the suspect.
“Captain Baker had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his 28 years in law enforcement,” Sheriff Reynolds said. He added, “On behalf of the dedicated women and men of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, we regret any heartache Captain Baker’s words may have caused.”
The shootings in Atlanta sent a shock wave through Washington on Wednesday, resonating with the increasingly powerful contingent of Asian-American members in Congress.
“Racially motivated violence should be called out for exactly what it is — and we must stop making excuses or rebranding it as economic anxiety or sexual addiction,” said Marilyn Strickland, a Korean-American Democrat from Washington, in a speech on the House floor.
“As a woman who is Black and Korean,” she said, “I’m acutely aware of how it feels to be erased or ignored, and how the default position when violence is committed against people of color or women is to defer from confronting the hate that is often the motivation.”
The man arrested in the killings, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., told authorities he had struggled with “sexual addiction” and targeted the businesses where the victims worked to rid himself of temptation. Mr. Long is white.
Six of the eight victims killed on Tuesday were of Asian descent, the authorities said; an official from the South Korean Consulate in Atlanta confirmed on Wednesday that four were ethnic Koreans.
Ms. Strickland, who was born in Seoul and attended graduate school in Atlanta, was one of three women of Korean ancestry to be elected to Congress last year, along with Representative Young Oak Kim, a Republican from California, and Representative Michelle Park Steel, a Republican from California. They were the first three Korean-American women ever elected to Congress.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus said the group was “horrified by the news coming out of GA at a time when we’re already seeing a spike in anti-Asian violence. Although details are still unfolding, at least half of the victims appear to be Asian-American women. Our hearts go out to the victims & their families.”
Representative Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat who is also of Korean-American ancestry, posted an anguished thread on Twitter expressing his determination to address the issues of violence against Asian people and women.
“We should never be outraged by violence only targeting those who look like us. Hate comes in many forms,” he wrote, urging members of the House to revive the expired Violence Against Women Act which, by coincidence, was up for a vote on Wednesday.
The killings are likely to reignite debates over gun violence that have flared and then receded following other mass killings around the country.
“This kind of violence happens too often in America. And we weep with those who weep,” Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia who is from Atlanta, told reporters at the Capitol. “But we’ve got to do everything we can in terms of addressing bigotry and hate in our country.”
Senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who was elected to represent the state with Mr. Warnock earlier this year, commended the “swift action” of the police in the case.
“While the motive for last night’s terrible violence remains under investigation, I express my love and support for and stand in solidarity with the Asian-American community, which has endured a shocking increase in violence and harassment over the last year,” he said in a statement.
Martha Enciso and her co-workers at Perfecto Beauty Salon returned to work with a sense of dread on Wednesday morning at the modest shopping center about 30 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta where the police said a man killed four people on Tuesday night at a neighboring massage parlor.
“Despite the horrible events that took place, we had to return to work,” Ms. Enciso, 46, a grandmother and immigrant from Colombia, said softly. “We have no choice. We have to support our families and pay rent. Life can’t slow down. We came in fear, imagine, we are Hispanic, and some people hate us too.”
Tuesday afternoon had been business as usual at the beauty salon where Ms. Enciso works, which is frequented by immigrant women. Spanish-language music was playing in the background when, at around 4:30 p.m., Ms. Enciso and her colleagues heard what sounded like someone pounding on the walls next door.
She didn’t realize they were gunshots at the time, she said.
“We didn’t make much of it,” she said and paused. “Who could imagine what was happening there.”
About half an hour away on Wednesday at Gold Spa in northeast Atlanta, where three women were killed on Tuesday, Gloria Bozeman stood outside the doctor’s office next door to the establishment.
“It’s shocking,” said Ms. Bozeman, who lives in a nearby suburb. “I hope it’s not a case of racial bias, but it may very well be.”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, a string of attacks against Asians has prompted residents to call for more police patrols and has led to a debate about how the community can protect itself.
Older Asian residents in particular have been the targets of robberies, verbal attacks related to the coronavirus pandemic, and in some cases unexplained assaults.
In San Francisco, Max Leung, a shop owner, was so disturbed by attacks on Asian residents that he founded of the SF Peace Collective, a group that patrols Asian neighborhoods and hands out whistles and Chinese-language pamphlets to older residents explaining what hate crimes are and how to report them.
“The Asian community is anything but monolithic but what’s been happening has galvanized the community,” Mr. Leung said. “It’s unfortunate that it took all this.”
Among the Asian residents who have been attacked in the Bay Area in recent months are an 84-year-old Thai man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was killed when an assailant shoved him to the ground. Mr. Vicha’s killing was captured on a neighbor’s security camera and the footage of the incident spread across social media, prompting Asian-American actors and politicians to call for action to stop attacks against Asians.
In February, a liquor store owner in Oakland, Aaron Yee, was arrested after firing his handgun at a group of people attempting to rob a woman of a camera she was wearing around her neck.
After deliberating for two weeks the district attorney of Alameda County, Nancy O’Malley, said she would not file charges against Mr. Yee, who has a permit for a concealed weapon.
“The District Attorney’s Office does not condone vigilantism,” Ms. O’Malley said at the time. “However, after a thorough review of the facts of the incident, it is clear that Mr. Yee fired his weapon in lawful defense of the victim of the robbery or what appeared to be a possible kidnapping.”
On March 9, a 75-year-old Asian man, Pak Ho, was violently shoved to the ground during a robbery in Oakland. Mr. Ho died of his injuries several days later.
Carl Chan, the president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, says some attacks are related to the pandemic, hateful acts that came after political statements by former President Trump and others about the “Chinese virus” or the “kung flu.”
“It wasn’t this serious in the past,” Mr. Chan said. “Our seniors are afraid to walk their own streets.”
The fatal assault in San Francisco on a defenseless older man was the latest terrifying episode for Asian-Americans, many of whom have endured racist taunts, rants and worse during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, a group of state lawmakers and local officials representing Asian and Pacific Islander communities in California called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to choose an Asian American or Pacific Islander to be the state’s next attorney general — a call that they said had taken on particular urgency in light of the killings in Georgia.
“We need leadership across our state and the nation to take action,” David Chiu, a member of California’s State Assembly, said in a virtual news conference. “We need to stand up against these hate crimes.”
The suspect in Tuesday’s attack, Robert Aaron Long, and his parents were active members in recent years of Crabapple First Baptist Church, an evangelical church in Milton, Ga.
Mr. Long participated in the church’s youth group, according to Brett Cottrell, the youth and missions pastor from 2008 to 2017. The group met multiple times a week and took summer trips to do volunteer work in Pittsburgh and New Orleans, among other locations.
“He was one of those core young men involved in everything we did,” said Mr. Cottrell, who said he was stunned to hear of Mr. Long’s actions on Tuesday.
Mr. Long’s father was a volunteer with the student group. A church document lists Mr. Long as a member of its student ministry team in 2018, and a post on the church’s now-deleted Facebook page indicates that he was baptized there as an adult the same year.
Founded in the late 19th century, Crabapple is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The church describes itself online as “totally scriptural, passionately spiritual and eternally significant.” Mr. Cottrell described the church as theologically conservative. He also said church members are mostly white, but not exclusively.
“We grieve for the victims and their families, and we continue to pray for them,” the church said in a statement. “Moreover, we are distraught for the Long family and continue to pray for them as well.”
Crabapple’s lengthy bylaws cover a wide spectrum of theological and moral issues. Crabapple also placed itself on a list of churches “friendly” to the mission of Founders Ministries, a group within the Southern Baptist Convention that has criticized the denomination for what it characterizes as increasing progressivism. The group has raised alarms about the incursion of “critical race theory,” “intersectionality” and the social justice movement in Baptist circles.
Jared Longshore, the vice president of Founders, described Tuesday’s shootings as “grievous and heart-wrenching” and said Founders has no record of direct involvement with Crabapple. “May the Lord bring comfort to the bereaved and justice to the guilty,” he said in a message.