The white man charged Wednesday with killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at three Atlanta-area spas told authorities he was not driven by bigotry and that he had a "sexual addiction" and saw the businesses as "a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate," investigators said.
Capt. Jay Baker, the director of communications of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office in Georgia, sparked outrage when he said at a news conference Wednesday that the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, had had "a really bad day" Tuesday, "and this is what he did."
On Thursday, the sheriff's office acknowledged that Baker's comments "have become the subject of much debate and anger" and claimed they "were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect."
Investigators said they had not ruled out a racial motive, and experts say they should not.
"You can't ask perpetrators what they think," said Elaine Gross, president of the New York-based civil rights organization ERASE Racism. "That's not how we determine whether something is or isn't a hate crime."
If Long "had a bad day," she asked, "then why wasn't there a variety" among the victims? "That has to count for something."
Determining what constitutes a hate crime is not simple or easy, Gross said. But it cannot be ignored that most of those killed in the rampage were women of Asian descent.
"There's been a tendency not to call things hate crimes to want to avoid that categorization," she said. "And I think part of that is because they're looking for explicit intent, which might not be immediately evident."