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Biden orders flags at half-staff to honor victims of Atlanta-area spa shootings

Biden, Harris to meet with Asian American leaders
Biden and Harris to meet with Asian American leaders during Atlanta visit 09:36

Washington — President Biden on Thursday ordered flags at the White House and on federal grounds in the U.S. and abroad to be flown at half-staff after eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were fatally shot at spas near Atlanta.

The president directed the flags be lowered until sunset on March 22 "as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence" on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden said on Twitter that he and first lady Dr. Jill Biden "are keeping everyone impacted by the shootings in Atlanta in our prayers."

"We don't yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight," he tweeted. "The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They must stop." 

Police believe Robert Aaron Long, 21, is responsible for the rampage, and he was arrested 150 miles south of Atlanta after his family recognized him on surveillance footage posted online and alerted law enforcement. Long was charged Wednesday with eight counts of murder in the shootings.

Long, of Woodstock, Georgia, told police the attack was not racially motivated and instead perpetrated in an attempt to eliminate the temptation of his "sex addiction." The Atlanta police said Wednesday night they have "not ruled anything out" regarding the suspected shooter's motive and are taking a "hard look" at his motivation for carrying out the rampage.

But the shooting has sparked outrage and fear in the Asian-American community, which has faced a surge in violence during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A new report by the group Stop APPI Hate found Asian Americans were subjected to nearly 3,800 hate incidents in the past year, including harassment, shunning, slur and physical violence.

Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were poised to travel to Atlanta on Friday as part of their tour to promote the benefits of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package signed into law last week. While they will go to Atlanta as planned, the White House said the president and vice president will postpone an event to tout the rescue plan and instead meet with Asian-American leaders "to discuss the ongoing attacks and threats against the community" and meet with other local leaders. They are also set to visit the Centers for Disease Control to receive an update on the pandemic.

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