Georgia prosecutor says she will seek death penalty against suspect in Atlanta spa shootings

Robert Aaron Long, 21, poses in a jail booking photograph
Robert Aaron Long, 21, poses in a jail booking photograph after he was taken into custody by the Crisp County Sheriff's Office in Cordele. Photo credit: Reuters

A prosecutor in Georgia will pursue the death penalty against the man accused of fatally shooting eight people at Atlanta-area spas earlier this year, the New York Times reported on Tuesday (local time).

The district attorney in Fulton County said the spate of shootings were hate crimes as the suspect had targeted some his victims because of their Asian descent. 

On March 16, 2021, the alleged gunman committed a series of shootings at three spas, or massage parlours, in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia. 

The bloodshed began when four people were killed, and another wounded, at Young's Asian Massage in Cherokee County, about 64 km north of Atlanta. The suspect then fatally shot three women at Gold Spa beauty salon.

While investigating the initial report, officers were called to a separate aromatherapy spa across the street, where another woman was found dead from a gunshot wound.

Eight people were killed in the shootings, six of whom were Asian women. 

The 22-year-old suspect, Robert Aaron Long, faces "malice murder" and aggravated assault charges in Cherokee County, Georgia.

In a court filing on Tuesday (local time), the Fulton County prosecutor said Long had targeted four women because of their race, national origin and gender.

According to the New York Times, the prosecutor said she was planning to seek the death penalty against Long.

In a preliminary assessment, FBI director Chris Wray said the shootings may not be motivated by racial hatred or constitute hate crimes, a suggestion opposed by Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, one of only two Asian-Americans currently serving in the US Senate.

"From where I sit, I want to see a deeper investigation into whether or not these shootings and other similar crimes are racially motivated," Duckworth, who told CBS a week after the shootings.

"It looks racially motivated to me," she added.

Shortly after the shootings, authorities suggested sex addiction, not racial hatred, may have been a motive for the alleged gunman after he indicated he had issues with sexual addiction.

Officials said the then-21-year-old suspect appeared to have frequented the spas he targeted, or similar venues.

Reuters / Newshub