Atlanta Spa Shooter Given Four Life Sentences After Pleading Guilty, Now Faces Death Penalty
© REUTERS / CHRISTOPHER ALUKA BERRYCity of Atlanta police officers are seen outside of Gold Spa after deadly shootings at a massage parlor and two day spas in the Atlanta area, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
© REUTERS / CHRISTOPHER ALUKA BERRY
The March shooting spree at Atlanta-area massage parlors committed by Georgia man Robert Aaron Long claimed the lives of eight individuals, the majority of whom were women of Asian descent. The shooting came amid heightened hostilities against the Asian community that emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robert Aaron Long, the 22-year-old at the center of the March spa shootings, pleaded guilty to killing four individuals on Tuesday and was subsequently ordered to serve four consecutive life sentences.
In addition to the life sentences, Judge Ellen McElyea stripped Long of the possibility of ever being released on parole and added on another 35 years to his punishment.
The Tuesday judgement was issued as part of a plea deal in which Long admitted guilt to all charges stemming from the four murders that took place in Georgia’s Cherokee County at Young’s Asian Massage. The offenses were listed as malice murder, felony murder, attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault.
© AFP 2021 / Megan Varner / Getty ImagesPeople bring flowers to the memorial site set up outside of The Gold Spa on 19 March 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
People bring flowers to the memorial site set up outside of The Gold Spa on 19 March 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
At the time, the string of shootings particularly ignited outrage among many after investigators suggested the murders were not racially motivated, and were instead the result of a sex addiction. The stance was reiterated by prosecutor Shannon Wallace, who told McElyea that investigators found no evidence of a gender or racial bias since Long had randomly begun shooting upon entering the establishment.
Speaking before the judge, Long told McElyea that he had sought to commit suicide on the day of the shooting, but thought he could overcome the urge by going to a spa. However, at some point after consuming alcohol inside his vehicle, he decided to attack the employees in order to “punish” them for working at the spa.
Long killed a total of four employees at the spa: Xiaojie "Emily" Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Yaun and Paul Michels. One other individual was injured during the shooting rampage.
Death Penalty Looms
Over yonder in Georgia’s Fulton County - in the heart of the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area - Long is facing the death penalty for the murder of four other women who were of South Korean descent.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis recently revealed that she intends to seek out both the death penalty and a hate crime enhancement sentence, which would see a jury determine whether or not Long’s crimes were influenced by race.
“Last year, I told the voters of Fulton County that I could not imagine a circumstance where I would seek it,” Willis said at a news conference in early May, touching on her initial apprehension toward the death penalty. “And at that time, I did not. Unfortunately, a case has arisen in the first few months of my term that I believe warrants it.”
© REUTERS / SHANNON STAPLETONFlowers are laid in front of Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 17, 2021.
Flowers are laid in front of Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 17, 2021.
© REUTERS / SHANNON STAPLETON
Incidentally, Wallace has stated that her office would have sought out a hate crimes enhancement on the basis of gender if the case had in fact gone to trial, as well as the death penalty.
In Fulton County, Long murdered Yong Ae Yue, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim and Hyun Jung Grant after walking into the Gold Spa and the Aromatherapy Spa, two Atlanta area businesses that were across the street from one another.
Long is scheduled to appear in Fulton County Court in August for the Atlanta charges. Should the second case go to trial, the New York Times reported that it may not be held until 2024 due to scheduling delays brought on by the pandemic.