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'Sex Addiction' Cited As Spurring Spa Shooting, But Most Killed Were Of Asian Descent


In Atlanta, investigators are piecing together what drove a 21-year-old man allegedly to shoot and kill eight people yesterday. The string of shootings happened at three massage parlors in the metro Atlanta area. Six of the dead were women of Asian descent, two others were white. Lisa Hagen of member station WABE is following developments and joins us now.

Hey, Lisa.


KELLY: What more have we learned about the suspect and why he allegedly did this?

HAGEN: Well, he told police that he identifies as a sex addict. He told investigators that he wanted to get rid of what he saw as temptations that were haunting him. Here's Cherokee County Captain Jay Baker.


JAY BAKER: He claims it was not racially motivated. He 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.

HAGEN: So Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that if he hadn't been apprehended, he would have continued down to Florida. That was his plan to commit more violence there against the, quote, "porn industry." Police say his parents turned him in when they saw surveillance images of him exiting the first shooting site, and then they helped catch him because they were able to track his cell phone, which showed the authorities where he was. When police arrested him, they found a 9-millimeter handgun in his car that they believed was used in the shootings. No word on ammunition.

KELLY: So I'm wrestling, as I suspect a lot of people are, with what the suspect said to investigators - as we just heard, he says these killings were not racially motivated - but then there's this inescapable fact that most of those who were killed were women of Asian descent. How are investigators trying to square that?

HAGEN: I mean, so far, it's still very early. And investigators say that they're looking through his social media and phone for more information about his motive. But of course, yeah, the attack comes at a time of heightened fear in the Asian American community nationally. Atlanta's mayor made sure to note that there has not been an uptick in crimes against Asians reported to Atlanta police. However, she acknowledges that violence has been hitting the Asian American community hard and that she wants it to stop.


KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: Whether it's senseless violence we've seen play out in our streets or more targeted violence like we saw on yesterday, a crime against any community is a crime against us all.

HAGEN: That was Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. And even though the suspect told police that the killings weren't racially motivated, to many of the people in the community, it still feels that way.

KELLY: We'll stay with that, because I know you've been speaking to members of the Asian American community. What are they telling you?

HAGEN: You know, hate incidents have been rising for a year. And for many people, this feels like a culmination of the violence that we've been seeing nationally. Here's Sue Ann Hong with the Center for Asian Pacific American Women. She said this today.


SUE ANN HONG: You can say it's not a hate crime, but I have a hard time believing that it's not related.

HAGEN: So local Asian American groups are holding community calls today. They're working on trying to funnel resources for mental health counseling. And a lot of people have questions about, you know, why women specifically were attacked here and the sort of stereotypes about massage parlors and the sex trade that go along with that. But I think most folks are waiting for more information.

KELLY: And real quick, what happens next in the case against the alleged gunman?

HAGEN: He's in custody at the Cherokee County Detention Center. He's going to be arraigned on Thursday morning on four counts of murder and one aggravated assault. And like I said, investigators are going to keep looking through his phone and social media for more context about what was going through his head.

KELLY: All right. That is Lisa Hagen of member station WABE in Atlanta.

Thank you, Lisa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lisa Hagen is a reporter at WABE.