,ATLANTA - Police in Georgia sought further clues on Thursday to the motive in the fatal shootings of eight people, six of them Asian women, at Atlanta-area spas that heightened concern over a recent surge of hate crimes directed at Asian Americans. The 21-year-old accused gunman, Robert Aaron Long, who is white, suggested to investigators that a sex addiction led him to carry out Tuesday's violent rampage at three spas - two of them in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County about 40 miles (64 km) north of Georgia's state capitol, authorities said. Authorities did not rule out the possibility that the attacks were motivated at least in part by some other grievance including anti-immigrant or anti-Asian sentiments. The Atlanta Police Department said in a statement on Wednesday night: "Our investigation is far from over and we have not ruled anything out." Long, arrested within hours of the killings, was charged on Wednesday with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He was being held in Cherokee County, where he resided and where the shootings began. The shootings triggered an outcry from civil rights advocates and some political leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, who condemned a rise in incidents of anti-Asian discrimination and violence since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A number of Asian American leaders will testify later on Thursday before a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee subcommittee on discrimination and violence facing Asian Americans. The hearing was scheduled prior to the shootings. Democratic U.S. Representative Judy Chu said the violence, while heartbreaking, was not surprising in the wake of Republican former President Donald Trump's incendiary language. Trump at times called the novel coronavirus the "China virus," "China plague" and "kung flu." "Actually this day was coming because it's been a whole year of ugly rhetoric by Donald Trump ... to describe COVID-19," Chu said in an interview on MSNBC. Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department said on Wednesday that Long had confessed to the shootings and had indicated he had a sex addiction and "wanted to eliminate" the temptation the establishments represented to him. Tyler Bayless, who told Reuters he spent several months living with Long in a halfway house for recovering addicts, said Long had been treated for sex addiction, was "deeply religious" and would become "very emotionally distraught that he frequented" spas for "explicitly sexual activity." 'ONGOING INVESTIGATION' Officials said Long indicated he may have patronized the establishments he is accused attacking with a 9mm gun, but authorities could not immediately confirm whether he had been a customer and whether he visited them for sex. A report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism this month showed that hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 major U.S. cities rose by 149% from 2019 to 2020, a period when overall hate crimes dropped 7%. Civil rights advocates have said the rise seemed related to Asians and Asian Americans being blamed for the pandemic, which originated in China. South Korea on Wednesday said its consulate-general in Atlanta confirmed that the dead included four women of Korean descent but was verifying their nationalities. Some details have begun to emerge about Long. He graduated from an Atlanta-area high school in 2017 and attended a nearby Baptist church. An inactive Instagram account that appeared to have been his bore the tagline: "Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life," according to The Daily Beast. Long legally purchased the suspected murder weapon at a sporting goods store in Holly Springs, Georgia, CNN reported, citing an attorney for the company. Outside the Gold Spa, one of the businesses where the shootings occurred, people left flowers and candles to remember the victims. Fred Morris, who works at another business nearby, said on Wednesday evening he doubted that sex addiction was the motive and voiced concerns about attacks against people of Asian descent. "It needs to be stopped," Morris said. REUTERS
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