The attacks began around 5 p.m. Tuesday, when five people were shot at a massage parlor in Acworth, a suburb north of Atlanta. Four people — two Asian women, a white man and a white woman — died of their injuries. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, they were identified as 33-year-old Delaina Ashley Yaun, 44-year-old Daoyou Feng, 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan and 54-year-old Paul Andre Michels. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, a 30-year-old Hispanic man, was wounded and taken to a hospital and was in stable condition, according to local reports.
Less than an hour later, four Asian women were killed in shootings at two spas in Atlanta. Their names weren't released, but South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it has confirmed the four were of Korean descent.
The deadly attack comes at a time during increasing reports of anti-Asian racism and violence during the coronavirus pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition documenting and addressing anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, said it received nearly 3,800 self reports of anti-Asian hate incidents between March 2020 and last month.
Women made up a far higher share of the reports, at 68% versus 29% for men. "There is an intersectional dynamic going on that others may perceive both Asians and women and Asian women as easier targets," Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University and the forum's co-founder, told NBC Asian America.
Experts have pointed to several factors behind the rise in anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, including a history of xenophobia toward Asian communities, as well as former President Donald Trump and other political leaders' repeated use of racist rhetoric to describe Covid-19.
In response to Tuesday's deadly attacks, Stop AAPI Hate released a statement in support of the victims' families and AAPI communities.
"The reported shootings of multiple Asian American women today in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the Asian American community, which has been reeling from high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year. Few details about these shootings have been released, including whether or not they were motivated by hate."
The coalition reiterated that the latest incident "will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian American community continues to endure," and that "not enough has been done to protect Asian Americans from heightened levels of hate, discrimination and violence. Concrete action must be taken now."
Following the shootings, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms commended local law enforcement in arresting the suspect and said she was in close contact with the White House and Atlanta Police Department for the investigation. "A motive is still not clear," she said, "but a crime against any community is a crime against us all."
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., offered his condolences on Twitter, writing, "My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives. Once again we see that hate is deadly. Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community."
Asian American politicians have expressed their support of the victims' families and community members, and called for greater solidarity from the public and political leaders.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, wrote on Twitter Tuesday night, "As we wait for more details to emerge, I ask everyone to remember that hurtful words and rhetoric have real life consequences. Please stand up, condemn this violence, and help us #StopAsianHate."
Chu spoke at a House Democratic Caucus news conference Wednesday morning and called for greater action to address rising anti-Asian racism, especially toward those most vulnerable and most targeted —immigrant Asian women.
She outlined steps she's taking to amplify the issue, including meeting with the Department of Justice to take action against AAPI hate, holding an upcoming House Judiciary hearing about anti-Asian hate crimes, passing the No Hate Act to improve local law enforcement hate crime programs and calling for a national day to speak out against AAPI hate on March 26.
"We know if we stand together, we can defeat this hate," Chu told reporters. "It is only if we support one another that this can end."
Public figures spanning civil rights activism, media, entertainment, sports and beyond also reacted to the news and the general rise of anti-Asian racism in the past year.
Actor Daniel Dae Kim, who has been vocal about the rise of anti-Asian violence, will join the House Judiciary panel on Thursday. Actor Lana Condor tweeted following the shootings for allies to check in with Asian friends experiencing racial trauma, while Instagram's Eva Chen directed those who want to help to support GoFundMe's fundraising efforts toward AAPI communities and civil rights groups.
NBA star Dwyane Wade amplified the #StopAsianHate movement and expressed his support on social media, writing, "The physical assaults and recent killings are rooted in racism. It needs to stop. We cannot be silent. My thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones due to this senseless hatred. To our Asian community - we love you and are standing united with you. Enough is enough."
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke out in solidarity with the families of the people killed and with the Asian American community, encouraging the public to speak out against racism and acts of violence.
"We stand with you and understand how this has frightened, shocked and outraged all people," Harris said. "But knowing the increasing levels of hate crimes against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge none of us should ever be silent in any form of hate."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden was briefed overnight about the Atlanta shootings, that White House officials have been in touch with the mayor's office and will remain in touch with the FBI. Psaki later said Biden would receive a phone briefing from Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray on the shootings Wednesday morning.
Last week, during his first national televised remarks since becoming president, Biden denounced anti-Asian racism, calling hate incidents "un-American," saying that they "must stop."