Asian American communities on edge after deadly Atlanta-area shootings

By Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 8:55 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021
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7:22 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Cherokee County sheriff: "This is the worst thing I have seen in our community"

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch


A candlelight vigil was held Thursday outside Young’s Asian Spa, where four people were killed and one person wounded.

The four killed in the shooting near Woodstock, Georgia, were Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

The injured survivor was Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, authorities said.

“We are at a loss of words of why, but we are committed to building a solid case and working with the FBI, the city of Atlanta and Crisp County Sheriff’s Office to present a solid case to have a successful result of prosecution,” said Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds who attended the vigil.

“Tonight is about these individuals and their lives, what they meant to their families and what they meant to our communities,” Reynolds said.

He told reporters that he wanted to let the Asian American community know that “we have them in our hearts and our prayers and we’re so sorry for the loss of life."

The sheriff said he grew up in Cherokee County and was a patrol sergeant in the same area where the spa is located.

“For me, this is the worst thing I have seen in our community. It breaks my heart that this happens in other places and now here in our community,” Reynolds said.

The sheriff’s office is still looking at all possibilities and asking anyone with any additional information on the suspect to contact them.

Reynolds said that as of right now, there is no evidence to suggest that this was a racially-motivated attack but they are not ruling out any possibility.

6:01 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Shooting suspect asked officers if he would be going to jail "for the rest of his life," report shows

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch and Gregory Lemos

Crisp County Sheriff's Office/AFP/Getty Images
Crisp County Sheriff's Office/AFP/Getty Images

The suspect in the Atlanta spa shootings, Robert Aaron Long, asked officers taking him to a jail cell if he was “going to be here for the rest of his life,” according to the incident report released by the Crisp County Sheriff’s office. 

According to the report, Georgia State Patrol performed a pit maneuver on his black 2008 Hyundai Tucson and took him into custody along GA 401.

While waiting to be escorted to a cell, Long asked if he was going to be there for the rest of his life, the report said. He was placed in a padded cell on suicide watch.

The report indicated that the conversation with Long was caught on body worn camera. CNN has requested the video from the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office.

6:32 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Former transportation secretary says attacks like Atlanta shootings "cut at the very core of our country"

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao weighed in for the first time Thursday after a gunman shot and killed eight people in Atlanta, including six who were Asian, saying the work to combat the rise in hate against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community "must intensify."

"My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of the attack in Atlanta," Chao, who is Asian American, said in a statement first provided to CNN. 

"Such vicious, unconscionable acts of violence cut at the very core of our country and the values on which it was founded. As we await the findings of a thorough investigation, the critical work to combat the haunting rise of hatred against the AAPI community must intensify with the immediacy this latest tragedy commands."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao's husband, also released a statement on the shootings.

“Committing a crime against anyone because of his or her national origin or race is deeply wrong and antithetical to our founding principles. Asian Americans should not have to experience discrimination anywhere," he said.

Earlier in the day, McConnell had ignored multiple questions about the Atlanta shootings, including whether former President Trump's harsh rhetoric about China and coronavirus led to a rise in anti-Asian American bias and who is to blame for the shootings.

While investigators have not yet determined a motive, violence against Asian Americans has risen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The group Stop AAPI Hate began tracking violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in March 2020 and has received nearly 4,000 firsthand complaints.

Some context: CNN reported earlier that most Senate Republicans have not commented publicly on the issue of violence against Asian Americans in the wake of the shooting.

President Biden plans to visit the state Friday with Vice President Kamala Harris and will meet with local Asian-American community leaders.

5:14 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Cherokee County captain no longer spokesperson on spa shooting case after backlash over comments

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch and Natasha Chen


Captain Jay Baker is no longer the spokesperson for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office’s case investigating the spa shooting, the sheriff’s office confirmed to CNN.

In an earlier statement, Sheriff Frank Reynolds responded to comments made by Baker during a news conference on Tuesday that where he said about the spa shooting suspect, “He was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” 

Reynolds said in a statement on Thursday that he has known and worked with Baker for many years and his comments “were not intended disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect.” 

CNN has reached out to Baker for comment.

4:36 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Atlanta police says it is "working diligently" to determine a motive

Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton speaks to the media on Thursday.
Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton speaks to the media on Thursday. WXIA

Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton said the investigation into the four people killed at the two Atlanta spas is ongoing and the department is not prepared to release the names of the victims because they are still pursuing the next of kin notifications.

"We had four Asian females that were killed, and so we are looking at everything to make sure we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides were," Hampton said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

"Again, it's just very important to let you know that we are not done. In most cases of homicides we don't have a quick apprehension, there's usually a lengthy investigation especially when it involves multiple victims, and we are working diligently to ascertain all the facts so we can have a successful prosecution, and that's what is most important now."

Hampton said the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, "may have frequented those locations" before Tuesday's shootings.

Eight people were shot dead – including six Asian women – at three metro Atlanta spas on Tuesday in attacks that police believe were perpetrated by the same suspect.

The four killed in the shooting near Woodstock were Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

Asked his position on whether Tuesday's shootings were a hate crime, Hampton said:

"I don't have a position. Like I said, I will only comment about our investigation. Again, we're not prepared to talk a lot about what has been said because, again, we're not trying to try the case in public. This is, again, it's a tragic – again, we try to remember that eight families are impacted by this."

Watch here:

3:09 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Sister of woman killed in spa shooting: "She didn't deserve that. Nobody deserved it."

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Delaina Yaun is seen in this photo provided by her family.
Delaina Yaun is seen in this photo provided by her family.

For Delaina Yaun, one of the victims of the fatal Georgia spa shootings, “family came first,” according to her sister Dana Toole.

“She had such a wonderful, happy, upbeat personality. … It's devastating,” Toole told CNN’s Brianna Keilar. 

Yaun was recently married, Toole said, and had an eight-month-old daughter. She and her husband wanted to have some time alone, so they visited a spa for a couple's massage, Toole said. Her husband made it out safely, but she was fatally shot, according to a GoFundMe page.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it's still too early to determine a motive in the shootings. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN's David Axelrod, "We can't ignore the fact that there were Asian women who were — seem to have been targeted in these Asian massage parlors.”

“The Asian community was attacked, and unfortunately, my sister was in an Asian spa," Toole said. "She was enjoying time. She was just going to enjoy time with her husband. Her husband. Come on. Like, it's supposed to be a safe place. I don’t understand.”  

“She didn't deserve that. Nobody deserved it. These families didn't deserve to lose their loved ones. I just hope, I hope there's justice. I hope that we can prevent stuff like this from happening, because this is uncalled for,” she added. 

Toole said she’s been trying to avoid social media and watching the news because she is grieving her sister.

She said she doesn’t want any other families to suffer the same result in the future. 

“I don't want to get that phone call that I just lost somebody again like this. … She was too young. She was only 33,” Toole said. 

3:01 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Asian American lawmakers urge GOP to tone down rhetoric following attacks on community 

From CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi

Several Asian American female lawmakers, including Reps. Grace Meng, Doris Matsui, Judy Chu, Young Kim and Michelle Steel and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, testified before a House committee today about the discrimination and violence the community has faced.

"Our community is bleeding. We've been in pain and we've been screaming out for help," Meng told lawmakers.

Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, testified that the "Asian American community has reached a crisis point that cannot be ignored."

"What started out last January as just dirty looks and verbal assault have escalated to physical attacks and violence against innocent Asian Americans," she added.

Some of the Democratic lawmakers on the panel contributed the rise in attacks to the rhetoric former President Trump and other Republican lawmakers used in referring to Covid-19.

Reports of anti-Asian hate incidents have risen in recent months, including several unprovoked violent attacks on elderly Asian Americans, with at least three in the Bay Area captured in disturbing videos this year. The hearing also came after a string of shootings in the Atlanta area left eight people dead — six of whom were of Asian women.

The witnesses implored Republicans to tone down their rhetoric in the wake of attacks on the Asian American community, with Rep. Meng accusing a Republican of placing a "bulls-eye" on them with his comments about China.

"Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want, but you don't have to do it by putting a bull's-eye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids," Meng said to Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas.

"This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community and to find solutions, and we will not let you take our voice from us," she added.

Earlier Thursday during the hearing, Roy said his "concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society, free speech, and away from the rule of law and taking out bad guys."

"I think the Chinese Communist Party running the country of China, I think they're the bad guys," he said.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, who is an immigrant from Taiwan who served active duty in the US Air Force, also pushed back against Roy's remarks, saying the hearing is "not about policing speech."

"I served in active duty so you can say whatever you want under the First Amendment, you can say racist stupid stuff if you want," Lieu said in comments Thursday. "But I'm asking you to please stop using racist terms like 'Kung flu,' or 'Wuhan virus' or other ethnic identifiers in describing this virus. I am not a virus and when you say things like that, it hurts the Asian American community."

Thursday's House committee hearing also addressed the history of racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans, which dates back to the 19th century. It was the first House hearing on discrimination against Asian Americans in over three decades.

Watch a moment from the hearing:

2:11 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

There's a long history of anti-Asian racism in the US

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise since the pandemic began, but the community has long faced discrimination in the United States, going back all the way to mid-19th century, when the first Chinese migrants arrived in the country.

Discrimination by law

The Page Act of 1875 was enacted seemingly to restrict prostitution and forced labor. But many scholars have argued that in reality, it was used systematically to prevent Chinese women from immigrating to the US, under the pretense that they were prostitutes.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese workers from coming to the US. To support their families back home and to repay loans they took to migrate to the US, Chinese workers were often forced to work for whatever wages they were offered. “Many of the non-Chinese workers in the United States came to resent the Chinese laborers, who might squeeze them out of their jobs,” according to the Office of the Historian with the US State Department. 

The immigration Act of 1924 excluded from entry anyone born in a geographically defined “Asiatic Barred Zone," except for Japanese and Filipinos. In 1907, the Japanese government had voluntarily limited Japanese immigration to the US and the Philippines was a US colony, so its citizens were American nationals.

In the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing and by an executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, almost all Japanese Americans had to leave their homes and live in camps against their constitutional rights. These immigrants were painted as disloyal and it was considered an issue of public safety. 

Anti-Asian attacks and riots

In 1871, Los Angeles witnessed the Chinese massacre, where about 500 rioters killed 18 people or 10% of the city’s Chinese population, according to the L.A. Public Library. Eight people were convicted of manslaughter, but the convictions were overturned and no one was retried.

The anti-Asian sentiments continued amid a hard economic period. In 1885, a disturbing trend of forced evacuation emerged in Tacoma, Washington, where a mob of about 300 people drove about 700 Chinese people out of their homes and forced them into wagons. When they heard about the violence, 150 Chinese people fled neighboring Seattle. In 1886, 350 Chinese were forced out of their homes and most were shipped to San Francisco.

A series of anti-Filipino riots took place in 1929 and 1930 in farming communities across California. For example, a mob of about 500 White people roamed Watsonville, California, attacking Filipino farmworkers and their property after Filipino men were considered to not only be taking jobs, but also flaunting social norms by dating White girls.

In the 1980s, a Chinese American named Vincent Chen was mistaken as Japanese and beaten to death by two White men who blamed Japan for the loss of auto jobs.

And since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many Asian Americans have been coughed on, spat on, harassed and attacked. The Atlanta shootings have only highlighted that the community is on edge with their long-lived fears and trauma that goes back centuries.

CNN's Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.

Avlon: Asian-American discrimination is a horrific chapter of our history 

1:55 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Atlanta Police will hold news conference this afternoon 

Atlanta Police are holding a 3 p.m. ET news conference with an update on the spa shootings.

Eight people, including six Asian women, were shot dead at three metro Atlanta spas on Tuesday in attacks that police believe were perpetrated by the same suspect.

Police said yesterday it was too early to determine a motive in the killings, but the attacks come as Asian Americans are facing increased incidents of hate in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The suspect told police he believed he had a sex addiction, Cherokee County sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker said at Wednesday's news conference.