Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old who's now facing multiple murder charges for killing eight people at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday, struggled with sexual sins he committed in these establishments, a former roommate says.
“I lived with Robert Aaron Long for a few months. I can tell you right now that this is not racially motivated killing, but the product of an emotionally disturbed young man who was religious to the point of mania and who felt deep shame about why he frequented these places,” Tyler Bayless revealed in a Facebook post Wednesday. “I wonder how this would have gone if he had been in an environment where he wasn’t repeatedly told how sinful he was for the things that drove him. What a tragic loss of life, and a kid that was all around one of the sweeter people you’d meet.”
Bayless, 35, further explained to Reuters that he lived with Long in an Atlanta halfway house for recovering addicts named Maverick Recovery in late 2019 and early 2020.
The former roommate who last saw Long in February 2020 said he was being treated for drug addiction while Long was being treated for sex addiction. He revealed that Long admitted to frequenting massage parlors “for explicitly sexual activity” but would become “very emotionally distraught that he frequented these places.”
“In the halfway house he would describe several of his sexual addiction ‘relapses’ as he called them. He would have a deep feeling of remorse and shame and say he needed to return to prayer and to return to God,” Bayless told Reuters of Long, who was once a member of the student ministry at Crabapple First Baptist Church.
Long shot up three massage parlors in the Atlanta area Tuesday, killing six Asian women and two white men. He was planning to shoot up more massage parlors in Florida, police said.
Four people died in Long’s shooting spree during his first attack at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, which was reported around 5 p.m. A Hispanic man was also injured there.
Atlanta police officers then responded to what was reported as a robbery at Gold Spa (open 24 hours a day) in the northeast part of the city at 5:47 p.m., where they found the bodies of three women with gunshot wounds. While officers were at that scene, they received a call about shots fired at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where they found another woman's body.
Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department said at a press conference Wednesday that Long “did take responsibility for the shootings” and dismissed reports that his actions were racially motivated.
“He does claim that it was not racially motivated. He apparently has an issue with what he considers a sex addiction and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places. It’s a temptation for him he wanted to eliminate,” Baker said.
“He was pretty much fed up and kinda at the end of his rope, and I guess it was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Baker continued. "These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him, something he shouldn’t be doing. … He had an issue with porn and he was attempting to take out that temptation.”
Brett Cottrell, who led the youth ministry at Crabapple from 2008 to 2017, told The Washington Post that Long’s father was considered an important lay leader in the church. Long would attend morning and evening activities on Sundays, along with meetings on Wednesday evenings and mission trips.
Cottrell described Long as a “typical teenager” growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta.
“It’s not unusual for young men to be into video games,” he said. “Was he around guns and hunting? Yeah. Would I consider him to be obsessed? No. Was it part of the life? Yeah. At that time, I wouldn’t classify it as one of the main things he was involved in. Had he been deer hunting? Yeah. I don’t know that I would’ve considered it to be a massive chunk of his life.”
Like Bayless, several prominent critics of the evangelical community suggested that the influence of Long’s Southern Baptist upbringing likely contributed to his response to his sexual struggles.
Rachael Denhollander, a lawyer who's a former gymnast and outspoken abuse survivor, suggested in a series of tweets that the ease with which the women at the massage parlors were killed is a reflection of how they are treated in Southern Baptist culture.
“The man who murdered women in a massage parlor yesterday says he was ‘eliminating temptation’ because he had a sex addiction. He was a baptized member of an SBC church. Brothers. Pastors. Seminary heads. How you teach sexuality matters. It can be life and death,” she wrote.
“How you teach gender roles, and how you talk about women, how you sexualize them as temptations or dangers, matters. It can be life and death. The way you indirectly blame women for abuse, lust, assault, ‘temptation,’ can be life and death. This is happening in your pulpits, in your seminaries, in your counseling programs. It is in your marriage books, your books on womanhood and manhood, it is in your counseling sessions. It is in your purity books and discussions. It is in your social media. ...
“Your words, your teachings, your actions matter. The messages you send and imply and the culture it creates, matters. Real people pay the price. I am devastated,” she said.
Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness, also argued that the Church must accept some responsibility for Long’s actions.
“Again, churches are not responsible for every individual action of their members, but when you steep your flock in ideas that exclude and demonize, the community bears responsibility. Your ideas, words, and actions failed to challenge or worse actively promoted racism and sexism,” he wrote on Twitter.
When asked by The Christian Post to comment on the criticism Thursday, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the killings “shocking and repulsive” and said Christians should lead the way in standing against bigotry and injustice.
“These murders are shocking and repulsive. The killer should be brought to justice, and the roots of this violence should be made known as soon as it is revealed to investigators. While I do not yet know the reports from law enforcement as to the motives in this particular case, I am hearing increasingly from Asian Americans, including Asian American Christians, who face escalating bigotry against them in this sick time. Such is immoral and unjust,” he said in a statement.
“Every murderer should be held accountable for justice. Christians must also lead the way in refusing to listen to and refusing to amplify the voices of those who would incite hatred against minority populations. Jesus has taught us this: hatred in the heart leads, in the fullness of time, to bloodshed. We should stand against that,” he ended.