The 21-year-old man accused of opening fire at spas in the United States last week, killing eight people, faces additional charges of “malice murder” and aggravated assault, a law enforcement agency said on Monday.
Malice murder is an offence in the US state of Georgia, where the deadly attacks took place, alleging implied or express malice.
Robert Aaron Long was taken into custody following a chase by police hours after the shooting rampage at three separate spas on March 16, which has sparked a nationwide outcry over hate-based attacks against Asian Americans.
“Working with jurisdictions across Georgia, Robert Aaron Long was quickly apprehended and now faces malice murder and aggravated assault charges in our jurisdiction,” the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
The office said its deputies were still investigating the crime and gathering evidence.
“In an effort to preserve the case for prosecution, the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office will not be making any additional comments about this case at this time,” it said.
People hold placards during a ‘Stop Asian Hate’ rally, following the deadly shootings, in Atlanta, Georgia on March 20, 2021 [File: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]Seven of the eight people killed in the shootings were women, six of whom were of Asian descent.
They are 74-year-old Soon C Park, 51-year-old Hyun J Grant, 69-year-old Suncha Kim, 63-year-old Yong A Yue, 44-year-old Daoyou Feng and 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan, owner of one of the massage parlours.
Paul Andre Michels, an Army veteran, and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, were also killed.
The attacks sparked mourning and anger, as community advocates called for concrete action to defend Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders against racist attacks, which have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From where I sit, I want to see a deeper investigation into whether or not these shootings and other similar crimes are racially motivated,” US Senator Tammy Duckworth, one of only two Asian Americans in the Senate, told CBS programme Face the Nation on Sunday.
Duckworth, other lawmakers and Asian-American advocates have called out former President Donald Trump’s use of terms like “Kung Flu” and “China virus” to refer to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in the surge in hate incidents during the past year.
Words have consequences. Offensive names such as the “China virus” have led to innocent people getting hurt solely because of the color of their skin and it has to stop. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) March 22, 2021
A recent report found 3,795 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders took place between March 2020 and February of this year.
Meanwhile, protesters rallied in Atlanta and several other US cities during the weekend to demand an end to anti-Asian racism and violence.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also released a statement on Monday saying Gutteres “is profoundly concerned about the rise of violence against Asians and people of Asian descent during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
“The world has witnessed horrific deadly attacks, verbal and physical harassment, bullying in schools, workplace discrimination, incitement to hatred in the media and on social media platforms, and incendiary language by those in positions of power,” reads the statement, which does not mention a specific country.
“In some countries, Asian women have been specifically targeted for attack, adding misogyny to the toxic mix of hatred.”
The FBI is currently assisting local authorities in the investigation, which has yet to determine bias was a motivating factor, which is necessary to pursue hate crimes charges.