ATLANTA — In their first joint trip, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urged the country to stand against racism and xenophobia, with the president becoming emotional at times as he addressed a region rocked by the deaths of eight people in a mass shooting targeting Asian spas.
“There are simply some core values of belief that should bring us together as Americans, one of them should be standing together against hate, against racism,” Biden said at Emory University.
“Hate and violence often hide in plain sight and are so often met with silence,” Biden said. “But that has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.”
Biden’s visit did little to soothe the grief and anger many Atlanta residents are still grappling with three days after suspect Robert Aaron Long’s alleged rampage. On Friday, officials named four more victims, and local leaders gathered to decry the rise in violence against Asian Americans.
New surveillance video obtained by The Washington Post on Friday offered fresh details about the suspect’s actions immediately before the shooting. According to the footage, Long entered Youngs Asian Massage an hour before reports of gunfire. It is unclear what he did while inside.
The video footage also showed him sitting in his vehicle outside the establishment for about an hour before he entered. Authorities declined to comment on the new details about the timeline of his actions.
The footage shows the driver pulling into a parking spot, nose forward, with the windshield wipers on. He parks directly in front of the spa. An hour later, a slight figure emerges from the car, wearing an orange long-sleeved shirt, dark pants and dark shoes. It takes him less than a dozen steps to move from his car to the door of the business. About an hour later, when he leaves, his head is tilted down. He gets in the car, turns on the windshield wipers and backs out of the spot.
The mass shooting is the highest-profile gun massacre since the country locked down for the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago. It has galvanized Asian American leaders who’ve grown increasingly alarmed about hate crimes directed toward their community.
They’ve said that the increase in slurs and other attacks have come as they’ve been unfairly blamed for the pandemic by former president Donald Trump and his allies, who regularly referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” or “Kung flu.”
Biden and Harris also met for over an hour with advocates from Georgia’s Asian American and Pacific Island community and local lawmakers.
“Racism is real in America, and it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America and always has been,” Harris said. “The last year we’ve had people in positions of incredible power scapegoating Asian Americans. People with the biggest pulpits spreading this kind of hate.”
Harris is the first vice president with Asian heritage; her parents immigrated to America from India and Jamaica.
The presidential trip was initially supposed to focus the benefits of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Biden signed into law last week, which the president touched on in his remarks.
Outrage over the killings extended far beyond Atlanta, with donations to GoFundMe campaigns set up to support the victims’ families pouring in from across the nation — and beyond.
One, set up by the son of one of the Atlanta spa victims on Thursday, had raised more than $1.6 million by Friday evening.
Hyun Jung Grant, 51, was among four Asian women killed during the gunman’s rampage in Atlanta, according to the Fulton County medical examiner, which released the names of the women Friday. The mother of two was shot in the head.
“This is something that should never happen to anyone,” wrote Randy Park, one of her sons. “She was a single mother who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I.”
Park called his mother “one of my best friends and the strongest influence on who we are today. Losing her has put a new lens on my eyes on the amount of hate that exists in our world.”
Park said he had had no time to grieve. He has a younger brother to care for and a funeral to plan. He said he is still waiting for his mother’s body to be released by authorities. In an update to the fundraising page posted Friday morning, he said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers.
“I don’t know how any word I write here will ever convey how grateful and blessed I am to receive this much support.” To those who donated money, Park wrote, “To put it bluntly, I can’t believe you guys exist.”
Campaigns for other victims confirmed as legitimate by GoFundMe include those set up for Delaina Yaun, Paul Andre Michels and Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, who remains in the hospital in critical condition.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office on Friday released the names of three other victims who were killed at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa: Soon C. Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63. Park, Grant and Yue each died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to the examiner’s report. Kim died of gunshot wounds to the chest.
Investigators said this week they waited to identify the four victims because they had been unable to notify all their family members.
Shortly after the shootings, police in Cherokee County had identified the four other victims killed: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Yaun, 33; and Michels, 54.
The identification of the last of the victims came as the suspect’s longtime church condemned him in a lengthy statement on Friday morning, saying 21-year-old Long had committed an “extreme and wicked act.”
Long was charged on Wednesday with eight counts of murder, and police say he has confessed to the crime. Long waived his right to an initial hearing on Thursday, and his attorney has not commented on the charges beyond expressing sympathy to the victims’ families.
“These unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel,” the statement from Crabapple First Baptist Church read. “Aaron’s actions are antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church.”
Earlier in the day, Biden and Harris also stopped by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, praising an agency that was sidelined during the Trump administration and endured false accusations and political interference as it produced critical guidance.
In Atlanta, standing in an emergency operations center, Biden and Harris listened to a briefing by top CDC officials who noted that the country is still seeing significant community transmission of the virus in many areas. The officials also detailed trends about various variants circulating — and particularly one that is resistant to some treatments.
“Science is back,” Biden declared during brief remarks. “I hope this is beginning of the end of not paying attention to what’s going to come again and again and again and again,” he said, stressing that even once the coronavirus threat recedes other contagions could emerge.
“We cannot stop these viruses,” Biden said, adding that the country’s only defense is to pay attention to the threat and “move quickly when we find them.”
Harris, speaking briefly, focused her remarks on thanking the staff. “You do this work on behalf of people you’ll never meet,” Harris said. “On behalf of people who will never know your names.”
The visit had a far different tone than one by Biden’s predecessor a year ago, where Trump downplayed the seriousness of the virus, saying it was similar to the seasonal flu and inaccurately claimed that the country had a robust capacity to test people for the virus.
“Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is,” Trump said during his visit.
Some staff at the CDC said they appreciated the new tone.
“It was validating and reassuring to hear President Biden and VP Harris affirm the role of science in public health, particularly while standing on the CDC campus,” said a CDC epidemiologist who has been part of the COVID response and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. “Typically I would take that message for granted. But, after the past year, I don’t. I hope that in the future I will never need that assurance again.”
Before leaving for his trip, Biden stumbled several times as he climbed the stairs to Air Force One — climbing about a dozen stairs before briefly losing his footing.
The president appeared to regain his balance and took a few more steps on the red-carpeted staircase, then stumbled again. He had more difficulty recovering the second time, stabilizing himself with his hand on a railing at first and starting to rise.
He initially appeared unsteady, but then supported himself and continued up the stairs without apparent difficulty, saluting at the top.
Biden, who at 78 is the oldest president in history, has not released medical records since December 2019. The White House said the incident was not serious.
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The Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun, Mark Shavin, Meryl Kornfield, Derek Hawkins, Teo Armus, Mark Berman, Hannah Knowles and Jorge Ribas contributed to this report.