On March 16, 2021, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long killed eight people and injured one in what would come to be known as the Atlanta Spa Shootings.
After purchasing a 9mm handgun from a gun store in Holly Springs, a city in Cherokee County, Georgia, Long drove to Young's Asian Massage in Acworth where he deliberated for over an hour before walking into the establishment at approximately 3:38pm. He remained inside the building for over an hour, leaving at around 4:50pm. Four minutes later, at 4:54pm, police were called and showed up to the scene to find workers dead and injured. Two people died in the attack, a further two died from their injuries later in hospital and one survived.
Surveillance footage of the suspect was released to the public and Robert Aaron Long, along with his vehicle, a Hyundai Tucson, was soon identified by his parents.
An hour later there was an attack on another spa, Gold Massage Spa, on Piedmont Road, around 30 miles and a 45-minute drive from Young’s Asian Massage. Three women were discovered dead from gunshot wounds. Another call regarding a shooting just across the street at Aromatherapy Spa was called in while police were still on the scene. There, they found another woman shot dead and others injured.
Six out of the Eight victims were Asian females leading to speculation that the victims were targeted for their race and gender. There has been a rise in crimes against the Asian community in the U.S throughout the global pandemic.
Long was visually identified by officers in Crisp County and tailed down the I-75 before being blocked by officers and eventually arrested at around 8:30pm. He was attempting to flee the state and heading for Florida before he was arrested.
Robert Aaron Long, a resident of Woodstock in Cherokee County, was known as a good guy in the local community and a son of good Christian Parents. He graduated from Sequoyah High School, in Hickory Flat, Georgia in 2017 and attended Crabapple First Baptist church in Milton, a conservative Evangelical church that preaches the Gospel. After the shootings, the church would go on to publicly condemn Long’s actions, calling them the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind and a rebellion against God. The members voted to have the suspect expelled from the church. Crabapple First Baptist Church released a lengthy statement on their website saying:
“We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word. Aaron’s actions are antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church. In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the actions of Aaron Long as well as his stated reasons for carrying out this wicked plan. The shootings were a total repudiation of our faith and practice, and such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the gospel.”
The church removed their website and social media due to fear that they and members of their congregation would be targeted after the shooting. The events opened a discussion about purity culture in certain religions- the idea that sex outside of a traditional Christian marriage, consuming explicit materials, masturbating, sexual experiences and even having lustful thoughts is sinful. Many evangelical churches send members struggling with their purity, and oftentimes sexuality, to evangelical rehabilitation facilities for what they believe are addictions to pornography and sex. The concept of pornography addiction is a controversial one, as porn addiction is not categorized as a diagnosable disorder in the most recent volume of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Volume 5, published May 18, 2013.) Despite research so far indicating that sex-addiction and pornography addiction does not affect the brain in the same way that other diagnosable addictions do (for example gambling, drug and alcohol addictions) many evangelical churches teach that it is a legitimate addiction that requires treatment and those who cannot curb their habits should be sent to evangelical rehabs. These facilities often have other controversial programs, such as so-called conversion therapy aimed at homosexual members of congregations.
Long had at one point checked himself into an Evangelical Rehab, HopeQuest in Acworth, citing sex addiction as the issue. When questioned by police about his motives, the suspect said that the spas and parlors were a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate. He was known to be a customer at, at least two of the establishments he attacked and one of the spas, Young’s Asian Massage, was just an 8-minute drive from HopeQuest rehab via Bells Ferry Road and Shallowford Road.
According to an article in the Washington Post: Atlanta shooting suspect was a patient at evangelical treatment center close to first targeted spa, published March 19, 2021, the founder of HopeQuest, Roy Blankenship, was known Nationwide for his conversion therapy programs. He considered himself an ex-gay and touted his conversion therapy programs for decades, until finally admitting he was gay and distancing himself from conversion therapy altogether, denying therapies ability to change one’s sexual orientation. Blankenship had been replaced by Wayne Carriker by the time Robert Long was admitted to the facility. Carriker also claims to be ex-gay and continues to promote conversion therapy at HopeQuest.
“I was shocked that he had taken this violence out on other people but not surprised that there was this extreme reaction from him in regard to these places of business” Long’s former roommate, Tyler Bayless, told Inside Edition. The two met in rehab where Long was said to be battling a sex addiction. While staying at the rehab the suspect had on several occasions left the facility to visit massage parlors in the area. Long had checked into the rehab at least twice, once in 2019 and once in 2020. He had what he described as an addiction to pornography and would spend several hours per day looking at explicit videos and images online. It was for this reason that he used an older model of cellphone, a flip phone, as opposed to a smart phone that would give him easy access to pornographic images and videos online. He said Long viewed masturbation as a relapse and described him as militant in his beliefs. After Long would relapse, he would often struggle with suicidal thoughts. Bayless told the Washington Post that the suspect would often say “I’m falling out of the grace of God and my pastor” during depressive episodes and that Long could not be convinced to seek psychological help.
After his arrest, police released a statement saying: “He was acting alone. There was no indication that anyone was working with him.” “He made some indications that he had issues, potentially sexual addiction and may have frequented some of these places in the past.”
Long has been charged with 8 counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.