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What Authorities Know About The Spa Shootings In Atlanta

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Georgia now, where the man accused of killing eight people at three different massage parlors yesterday has been charged with murder. He will appear in court tomorrow to be arraigned. There is a lot we still don't know, but officials did release a few details about the suspect and a possible motive. The alleged gunman told police that the killings were not motivated by race, even though six of those killed were Asian women. For more, let's go to Ellen Eldridge of Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Hey, Ellen.

ELLEN ELDRIDGE, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hey. Give us a little more detail, please, on what we have learned from authorities today.

ELDRIDGE: Well, this morning, the authorities held a news conference. And they said the 21-year-old suspect, Robin Aaron Long (ph), told them that he'd been a sex addict. They had some indications that he had visited some massage parlors and spas previously, and that he told investigators these locations were a, quote, "temptation" that he wanted to eliminate. Authorities say he claims that the killings were not racially or politically motivated, but he was arrested several hours away in south Georgia, and when they did so, they said that they found a gun in his car. And they believed he was planning to commit more violence in Florida at some kind of porn industry.

KELLY: Well, give us a sense of what people in Georgia are saying. You live in Cherokee County. That's where the first shootings happened. I know you've been out talking to people. What are you hearing?

ELDRIDGE: Well, originally, a lot of the people in Cherokee County, they thought that this might be a hate crime. But we know now - well, we know the suspect is saying that they were not racially motivated, it's just not playing well here. The law enforcement went to great lengths to say that the killings, at least according to the suspect, were not about race. Cherokee County is predominantly white. It's about 30 miles north of Atlanta. It's a Republican county that voted for Trump heavily in 2016 and 2020.

KELLY: OK.

ELDRIDGE: And overall, the killings have really saddened people here. One resident, Deidre Clymer (ph), she said that racism has to be part of the discussion about what happened.

DEIDRE CLYMER: Some of the white people in Cherokee County choose to look away from the existence of racism in Cherokee County. They don't think that it's here. Even when it's staring them in the face, they still want to look at it as like a one-off thing, one terrible person versus a systemic issue.

ELDRIDGE: And for the Asian Americans who do live here in Cherokee County, it feels a lot like the killings are racially motivated. It just - it seems like the alleged gunman is trying to absolve himself of responsibility for what happened.

KELLY: Ellen, did you ask any of the people you talked to about the particular kinds of businesses that were targeted?

ELDRIDGE: Yeah. The businesses that were targeted were Asian-owned businesses. And, you know, as we mentioned, six of the eight people were Asian - women of Asian descent. And we know that the conversation, it's not just about race, there's another layer that's about sex work. We spoke to a human rights activist in Atlanta, Kenyette Tisha Barnes, and she believes that the suspect's violence against these women was driven by entitlement and a sense of white privilege.

KENYETTE TISHA BARNES: They were targeted based on race. So his sex addiction tends to be Asian women, which, as a woman of color who does this work on really unpacking kind of mostly white men's fetishization with Asian women, with Black women, with Latina women, at the root of a lot of that is racism.

ELDRIDGE: And it's been in the past year well-documented that crimes against Asian Americans across the United States has soared, more than doubling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

KELLY: We will leave it there for now. That is Ellen Eldridge of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Woodstock, Ga.

Ellen, thanks for your reporting today.

ELDRIDGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.