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UPDATE: Accused Atlanta Spa Shooter Pleads Guilty to Some Charges, Now Faces Others

Robert Aaron Long’s Shooting Spree

On March 16 around 5 p.m., Atlanta-area police responded to reports of attacks on several spas, one northwest of Atlanta in Acworth and two in Atlanta itself. The shootings took place at three businesses: Young’s Asian Massage, Gold Spa, and Aromatherapy Spa. According to police, Long had been a patron of the latter two businesses. One person was injured in addition to the eight people who were killed.

Authorities arrested Long hours later in Crisp County, Georgia, which is south of Atlanta in the central part of the state. They said he was heading Florida to carry out more attacks against “some type of porn industry.” Long, who has taken responsibility for the shootings, has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He is being held without bond. 

Even though the majority of his victims are of Asian descent, Long has claimed that he was not motivated by race but rather by his struggle with sexual temptations. According to Capt. Jay Baker with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, “[Long] apparently has 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.” Long’s temptations were reportedly so acute that he considered committing suicide, but instead he decided to attack the spa workers in order to “help” people with struggles similar to his. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms emphasized the importance of not blaming victims and said the spas were legally operating businesses as far as Atlanta authorities know. 

Background on Robert Aaron Long

From late 2019 to early 2020, Robert Aaron Long sought help for his sexual struggles by spending time in a halfway house for people recovering from addictions. While there, he roomed with a man named Tyler Bayless, who was in the program for a drug addiction. Bayless told Reuters that Long was in the program for sex addiction and would relapse by going to “massage parlors” in order to seek out opportunities “for explicitly sexual activity.” Said Bayless, “In the halfway house he would describe several of his sexual addiction ‘relapses’ as he called them. He would have a deep feeling of remorse and shame and say he needed to return to prayer and to return to God.”

In a post on Facebook, Bayless wrote,

I lived with Robert Aaron Long for a few months. I can tell you right now that this is not racially motivated killing, but the product of an emotionally disturbed young man who was religious to the point of mania and who felt deep shame about why he frequented these places. I wonder how this would have gone if he had been in an environment where he wasn’t repeatedly told how sinful he was for the things that drove him. What a tragic loss of life, and a kid that was all around one of the sweeter people you’d meet.

While it is not clear whether Long was attending church at the time when he committed the shootings, he was at one time an active member of Crabapple First Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Milton, Ga., and had been baptized at the church twice. Former youth leader Brett Cottrell told The Washington Post that Long was a “typical teenager” who participated in the church’s youth group, attended a weekly Bible study and volunteered at a “backyard Bible club with songs and games for kids.” According to Cottrell, Long had professed his faith at eight years old and frequently helped out at the church by stacking chairs and cleaning floors.

Long’s family was also highly involved in Crabapple. The church has commented on the shooting, saying, “We grieve for the victims and their families, and we continue to pray for them. Moreover, we are distraught for the Long family and continue to pray for them as well.” Cottrell also stated, “There’s nothing that I’m aware of at Crabapple that would give approval to this. I’m assuming it’s as shocking and numbing to them as it has been to me.”

Church Leaders Grapple with the Shooting

The fact that Robert Aaron Long murdered multiple Asian women and gave a sexual motive for his crimes has stoked already tense conversations among Christians about evangelical views on race and sexuality. Because Long attended a Southern Baptist church, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has come under renewed scrutiny. The SBC has already been dealing with a fair share of controversy recently in the areas of race and sexual abuse.

Following the shooting, victims advocate Rachael Denhollander called out leaders in the SBC, saying, “How you teach gender roles, and how you talk about women, how you sexualize them as temptations or dangers, matters. It can be life and death…We have been pleading with you and begging you to see and hear what you are really communicating and the very real dangers it poses to women—the way it enables and minimizes abuse, and even encourages violence in unhinged people who take your positions to extreme conclusions.”