Atlanta-area spa shooter pleads guilty to four killings and gets life in prison, but still could face death penalty
Crisp County Sheriff's Office

Atlanta-area spa shooter pleads guilty to four killings and gets life in prison, but still could face death penalty

The Georgia man accused of fatally shooting eight people at three Atlanta-area spas in March pleaded guilty to four of the killings in a Cherokee County courtroom on Tuesday.

Robert Aaron Long agreed in court to plead guilty to 23 charges in all, including four counts of malice murder, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In handcuffs tied to his waist, Long stood at the court lectern and explained how he decided to carry out the shooting.

He said he purchased the gun used in the shootings, drove to a liquor store to buy alcohol, and then arrived at Young’s Asian Massage, where he sat in his car for about an hour drinking and deciding between killing himself or the people in the spa.

He recounted going inside and getting a “service” in a back room. Afterward, he said he went to the bathroom, and when he came out, he started shooting.

“When, if you recall, during this did you decide that you were going to start shooting people?” Cherokee County Judge Ellen asked.

“I think I made that decision in the car,” Long replied.

“How long was it between the first shot and the time that you left, if you recall?” the judge asked.

“It didn’t feel like more than five minutes,” Long said.

The comments reveal his own perspective about the murderous spree on March 16, when Long opened fire at Young’s spa, about 30 miles outside Atlanta in Cherokee County, and then at two neighboring spas in northeast Atlanta. He was arrested several hours later about 150 miles south of Atlanta.

Six of the eight victims were Asian women, and the shooting emphasized the wider rise in racism and violence against Asian Americans over the past year. In particular, the attacks illuminated the specific misogyny and racism that Asian women face.

After his arrest, Long told authorities the shootings were “not racially motivated,” according to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. He told authorities he believed he had a sex addiction and that he saw the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate,” Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said then.

The sentence represents the first part of a lengthy legal path ahead. Long still faces an additional 19 charges in nearby Fulton County, where prosecutors will be pursuing the death penalty for hate crimes targeting the sex and race of the victims. The hate crime charges against Long in Fulton County are believed to be the first application of the law in Georgia.

Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace said she intended to seek the death penalty and hate crime charges based on gender had there not been a plea deal. She said that their investigation did not show Long had any bias or prejudice against Asians, and so prosecutors would not have sought a hate crime enhancement based on race.

Survivor offers victim impact statement

The fatal shooting at Youngs Asian Massage near Acworth left five people shot and four dead: Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, the lone survivor of the shooting, became emotional as he shared with the court in a raspy, soft voice about how difficult the last few months have been for him and his 10-year-old daughter. Ortiz was shot in the face and a bullet remains lodged in him.

“This has affected my voice. I used to sing, and now I won’t be able to anymore,” he said.

He said that Long doesn’t deserve freedom.

“How many lives did he take away? And he tried to take away mine too,” he said.

The wife of Michels, Bonnie, also shared her pain and anguish with the court.

“A part of me died with him that day. He was my rock,” she said. They had been married for 24 years.

In Fulton County, the four victims were identified as Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.

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