Atlanta Falcons' Younghoe Koo 'deeply saddened' by area shootings, addresses rise in hate crimes

Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, who was born in South Korea but grew up in the United States, said Wednesday he is "deeply saddened" by the Atlanta-area shootings on Tuesday that left eight people dead, most of them women of Asian descent, while also calling attention to the rise in hate crimes against all races in recent years.

In doing so, he also cited some of his own experiences with racism.

"I am deeply saddened by the events that took place in Atlanta yesterday and although there is no definitive answer yet on what this investigation will bring, I feel now is the time to address the rise in hate crimes against ALL races over the last few years," Koo wrote in a statement posted to Instagram. "As an Asian American, I have heard the jokes and name calling. I often dealt with it by ignoring what was said and minding my own business.

"I don't have all the answers, but I realize now more than ever that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and that ignoring it won't help us do that. I know this one post won't solve the problem, but I hope to help raise awareness on hate crimes against all. #stophate"

The attacks began Tuesday evening, when five people were shot at Young's Asian Massage Parlor near Woodstock, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, Cherokee County Sheriff's spokesman Capt. Jay Baker told reporters. Two people died at the scene, and three were taken to a hospital, where two died, he said. About an hour later, police responding to a call about a robbery found three women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa. Officers then learned of a call reporting shots fired across the street, at Aromatherapy Spa, and found another woman apparently shot dead.

Four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white Georgia man, was taken into custody in connection with the shootings and has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.

Sheriff Frank Reynolds said it was too early to tell if the attack was racially motivated, "but the indicators right now are it may not be."

Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit social organization formed to prevent anti-Asian discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic, called the shootings "an unspeakable tragedy" for both the victims' families and an Asian American community that has "been reeling from high levels of racist attacks."

Stop AAPI Hate released a report on Tuesday that said there were 3,795 hate incidents reported to its center from March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021, which represents "only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur."

Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the rise in violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

"What happened last night in our hometown of Atlanta leaves me heartbroken for all the victims and their families," Blank said. "The rise in violence and hate, specifically towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, is inconceivable, unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

"I, my family and our family of businesses stand against all forms of hate, racism and violence and will continue to work toward a just and united community that rejects the ideologies creating such divisiveness."

Buffalo Bills owner Kim Pegula, who was born in South Korea and moved to the United States when she was adopted at the age of 5, released a statement in support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community following Tuesday's attacks in Atlanta as well as the "recent acts of violence and hate nationwide towards the Asian community."

"Devastating tragedies like this are far too common in our society today," Pegula wrote in a statement posted to her Twitter account. "Our hearts go out to the victims and their families and loved ones.

"Today and always, we stand beside the AAPI community and condemn all acts of violence motivated by hate based on ethnicity and/or race. Our ongoing hope is that we all come together as a nation to foster a community that is focused on love and equality."

Pegula also included a list of resources for "how we all can support the Asian community."

Former NBA guard Jeremy Lin, who recently said players have called him "coronavirus" while on the court in the G League bubble, told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night he has found himself starting to question whether his speaking out more is "encouraging more people to even have more hate?"

"By other people seeing these headlines, are we encouraging more people to do more crazy things and to hurt more Asians and Asian Americans?" Lin continued, calling that line of thinking a "very fearful thought process."

Lin described the recent Atlanta shootings and rise in violence against Asian Americans as "heartbreaking" and "really hard to process."

"Every day, it's not just one headline; every day, it's new headlines. It feels like it's more," Lin said. "But at the same time, we can't stop, we can't stop speaking out. We can't stop fighting, and we can't lose hope. If we lose hope, that's the end of it. But we have to keep remaining strong in what we feel like what we need to do and how we want to better this world."

LA Clippers forward Paul George spoke at length in his postgame interview Wednesday night about supporting the Asian-American community.

"I'm with the Asian community. I stand with them," he said. "I don't believe in any type of hate crime. We are all here to share this world together. ... It's no point that any race should look at another race any less equal than they are. It is just a crazy time and crazy world that we live in. This has to stop. We have to do better as brothers and sisters living in this world."

ESPN's Marcel Louis-Jacques and The Associated Press contributed to this report.