The suspect behind shooting attacks that killed eight in Atlanta “may have frequented” the three massage parlors that he targeted and had a potential sex addiction problem, authorities said on Wednesday.
Police and city leaders also indicated they believe Robert Aaron Long, 21, who did not resist arrest when he was apprehended, was on his way to Florida after Tuesday evening’s attack, where they suspect he may have planned to “carry out additional shootings”.
They said it was too early to determine whether the attacks, in which six of the victims were women of Asian descent, was a racially-motivated hate crime.
Frank Reynolds, the Cherokee county sheriff, said: “We were able to interview him with the Atlanta police department and the FBI. He made indicators that he has some issues, potentially sexual addiction, and may have frequented some of these places in the past.”
Jay Baker, Cherokee county sheriff’s captain, said the parlors were a “temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate”, indicating a clash with his strong Christian faith.
Police said the suspect, who is understood to have acted alone, admitted to the shootings, and a 9mm firearm was found in his vehicle. His image had been captured on security cameras at the premises where he went on the shooting spree.
Authorities on Wednesday afternoon released some of the names of the victims.
The Cherokee county sheriff’s office identified the victims who died there, in the first shooting, at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, as: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Xiaojie Yan, 49, and Daoyou Feng, 44.
The sheriff’s office identified an injured person as 30-year-old Elcias R Hernandez-Ortiz.
That shooting was reported at about 5pm local time.
Then, at 5.37pm, police responded to a robbery at Gold Spa and found the bodies of three women with gunshot wounds. They then received a report of shots fired across the street at Aromatherapy Spa where they found another woman’s body.
Long, of Woodstock, Georgia, who is white, was arrested after a manhunt about 150 miles south of Atlanta in Crisp county after police released surveillance footage from outside one of the massage parlors that was identified by his family. He was then tracked on his mobile phone.
Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor, said: “As tragic as this was …this could have been a significantly worse.”
She praised police coordination, saying if the suspect had not been quickly apprehended “it is very likely that there would have been more victims”.
Police did not provide a motive for the shootings and declined to comment on whether the attack was racially driven following widespread fears that it was.
Rodney Bryant, Atlanta’s police chief, said investigators were not ready to say whether the shootings were a hate crime, saying: “We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment.”
Regardless of motivation, Bottoms said: “We know that many of the victims, the majority of the victims, were Asian. We also know that this is an issue that’s happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful, and it has to stop.”
Joe Biden said on Wednesday that violence against Asian Americans is “very, very troubling” but that he is “making no connection at this moment of the motivation of the killer”.
The president added: “I am waiting for an answer from, as the investigation proceeds, from the FBI and from the justice department. So I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed.”
Kamala Harris condemned the “tragic” shooting, which she said “speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country”.
Addressing Asian Americans, the vice-president said: “We stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people. But knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hate.”
Barack Obama said the incident is a “tragic reminder” that America has neglected the “epidemic of gun violence”.
“Although the shooter’s motive is not yet clear, the identity of the victims underscores an alarming rise in anti-Asian violence that must end,” the former president tweeted.