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"An unspeakable tragedy": Asian American community reacts to deadly spa shootings in Georgia

8 dead in Atlanta-area spa shootings
6 Asian women among 8 dead in Atlanta-area spa shootings 03:45

A series of shootings in Georgia on Tuesday night has left many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders feeling "heartbroken" and "frightened." 

Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were shot and killed at three Atlanta-area spas, and another man was wounded. A suspect, identified as 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, is in custody for the deadly shootings at Young's Asian Massage in Cherokee County and two Atlanta businesses, Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa, which are across the street from each other.

Four of the victims were of Korean descent, South Korea's Foreign Ministry confirmed to CBS News.

Officials said at a Wednesday morning press briefing that the suspect took responsibility but claimed it wasn't racially motivated.

"This is still early, but he does claim that it was not racially motivated," said Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office. "He does have an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate."

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the first South Asian American woman to be elected to that office, said she and President Biden "grieve for the loss." 

"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 said.

Adriana Nahjia, the niece of one of the men who was shot, told CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL on Tuesday, "We never know when we are at the wrong place at the wrong time." 

"This was so, all of a sudden," she said, adding that he had just stopped at a nearby store on his way home from work when he was shot.

The shootings and their deadly toll on members of Atlanta's Asian American community came amid rising nationwide concern about violence targeting Asian American and Pacific Islanders. A study released last week revealed that hate crimes against Asian Americans surged roughly 150% in 2020. Women, according to the study, are attacked roughly 2.5 times more than men. 

The national coalition Stop AAPI Hate tweeted that the shootings are "an unspeakable tragedy." 

"For the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI community," the coalition said. "...Right now, there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed."

Stop AAPI Hate finds nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans in past year 05:54

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta called for extra support for those affected by the tragedy. "Now is the time to hold the victims and their families in our hearts and with light," the organization tweeted.

The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum also issued a statement on Twitter: "We are appalled and devastated at the violence in Georgia that has taken eight lives, six of whom were Asian American women. We mourn with the families of these victims."

New Jersey Representative Andy Kim tweeted that he is heartbroken over the shootings.

"The AAPI community across the country is frightened by these acts of violence," he said. "We have to strengthen our resolve and act against such blind hatred. Tonight we stand in solidarity with victims and their families." 

Julie Ae Kim, writer and Queens Borough director for Test and Trace Corps, tweeted that she was "sick to my stomach."

"I am angry and sad," she wrote. "It's the elders, the women, immigrants who are targeted for a reason - because the system leaves them the most vulnerable." In another tweet, she added, "I'm angry at those who minimized the violence. I'm angry that it took so long to be taken seriously." 

The hashtag #StopAsianHate quickly started to trend on Tuesday night, as people expressed frustration with the lack of action and accountability in attacks against Asian Americans. 

"I am heartbroken. I am enraged. I am scared," one individual said. "We need more. More condemning of anti-Asian racism from us all, but especially our elected officials. More calling a hate crime for what it is from the media. More loving of our communities and each other." 

Celebrities, including actress, producer and director Mindy Kaling, joined in on the calls for change, with Kaling tweeting that "enough is enough." 

"The targeting of our Asian brothers and sisters is sickening, but not surprising given the normalizing of anti-Asian hate speech in the past year," she said. "We have to #StopAsianHate, enough is enough!"

NBA superstar LeBron James also spoke out, calling the shootings "senseless and tragic" in a tweet that mentioned Aromatherapy Spa in particular. 

Many politicians have also spoken out, including Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.  Warnock tweeted Tuesday night, "My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives. Once again we see that hate is deadly. Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community."

Ossoff said in a statement, "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."

Just four days before the attacks, Mr. Biden condemned the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in his first prime-time address to the nation.

"Too often, we've turned against one another," he said. "Vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated." 

"It's wrong, it's un-American, and it must stop."

California Governor Gavin Newsom was also among the political leaders who condemned the attack, calling the shootings "abhorrent." His state has experienced a troubling surge in violence targeting Asian Americans in recent weeks.

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