Months before Robert Aaron Long was charged with carrying out a bloody rampage at three massage parlors he had been a customer at two spas in the city that were targeted in the attacks that killed eight people overall, including six women of Asian descent, reports the New York Times. The 21-year-old suspect who grew up in a conservative Baptist church that forbade sex before marriage, had also checked himself into a rehab clinic for a self-described sexual addiction, and was so intent on avoiding pornography that he blocked websites from his computer, only used a flip phone, and worried to a roommate about falling “out of God’s grace.” Tyler Bayless, a former roommate who lived with Long at a halfway house near Atlanta for about five months beginning in August 2019, said that Long was distraught by his failed attempts to curb his sexual urges and that at least once a month he would admit to visiting a massage parlor for sex. Long was an active member of the Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Ga., where women are told to dress modestly and “learn in quietness and full submission’ and the bylaws condemn “adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, polygamy, pedophilia, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s sex.”
When Long was arrested, he said he was on his way to Florida to carry out another attack on a business tied to the pornography industry, the police said. He has been charged with eight counts of murder. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that a heated debate has begun in the wake of the killings over whether Georgia will invoke hate-crime legislation against Long for his crimes. Protected categories under Georgia’s hate crime law include not only race but also gender, religion and national origin. That makes it relatively broad, said Georgia State University law professor Jessica Gabel Cino, and potentially applicable to this week’s shootings. In Georgia, the death penalty is one possible sentence for murder, along with life imprisonment with or without parole. Adding hate-crime charges to the mix, Cino said, could give prosecutors valuable leverage in any plea negotiations. As the investigation continues, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris planned to meet with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta on Friday.