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Church removes Atlanta shooting suspect from its membership

A suburban Georgia church removed suspected Atlanta spa shooter Robert Aaron Long from its membership ranks on Sunday morning, according to a statement from the church.

Long, 21, was arrested Tuesday night in connection with the shooting deaths of eight people at three spas in the metro Atlanta area. Six of the victims were Asian women. Long told police he believed he had a sex addiction and that he saw the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate,” Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker said on Wednesday.

It’s not clear whether any of the three businesses offered sexual services in addition to massages. But authorities have given no indication the three businesses were operating illegally.

Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, a suburban city located north of Atlanta, said in a statement that Long and his family were members of their congregation for many years. The church watched Long grow up and accepted him into church membership “when he made his own profession of faith in Jesus Christ.”

“These unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel,” the statement said.

The statement called the shootings an “extreme and wicked act” that is “antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church.”

The church condemned Long’s actions “in the strongest possible terms” and said it deeply regretted “the fear and pain Asian-Americans are experiencing as a result of Aaron’s inexcusable actions.”

“No blame can be placed upon the victims,” the statement read. “He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires.”

As a result of the shootings, the church published its full statement on its website along with frequently asked questions pertaining to the shooting, Long’s relationship with the church and the church’s teachings. The church limited public access on its website to the statement and the church’s teachings, and took down its social media accounts.

In its statement, the church said it took down its website and social media accounts “out of an abundance of caution.”

“We feared for the safety of members of our church community,” the church’s website said.

Sunday’s service opened with a member reciting the names of the victims whose lives were taken in an “inexcusable act of murder,” Associate Pastor Luke Folsom said, according to a recording provided by the church.

“We have been grieving over this tragic loss of life all week, and we will continue to mourn for the victims and their families,” Folsom said. “So that’s what we’re going to do today.”

Long is being held without opportunity for bail in Cherokee County, where he faces four counts of murder with malice, one count of attempted murder, one count of aggravated assault and five counts of using a firearm while committing a felony.

He has been charged with four counts of murder in connection with the two spa shootings in Atlanta, according to Atlanta police.

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