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Sheriff's office 'regret any heartache' for 'bad day' comment after spa killings

Capt. Jay Baker drew widespread criticism for saying the suspect in shootings that left eight dead "was fed up, at the end of his rope" and "had a bad day."
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Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office speaks about the arrest of Robert Aaron Long during a press conference at the Atlanta Police Department headquarters on Wednesday.Alyssa Pointer / AP
/ Source: NBC News

An Atlanta-area sheriff's office on Thursday said it regrets "any heartache" caused by the comments of a department spokesman who said the suspect in the spa shootings that left eight people dead was having a "bad day."

The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office acknowledged that comments Wednesday by Capt. Jay Baker were "construed as insensitive," but the department insisted "they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect."

Baker said the suspect told investigators "he was fed up, at the end of his rope" and that he "had a bad day, and this is what he did." Later Wednesday, it was revealed that Baker last March had shared a Facebook posting that promoted anti-Asian t-shirts.

"There are simply no words to describe the degree of human suffering experienced on Tuesday ... in our community and in Atlanta," Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a statement on Thursday.

"I have known and served with Captain Baker for many years. His personal ties to the Asian community and his unwavering support and commitment to the citizens of Cherokee County are well known to many. Oh behalf of the dedicated women and men of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office we regret any heartache Captain Baker's words may have caused."

Suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, is accused of killing four people inside Young's Asian Massage Parlor, on Highway 92 near Bells Ferry in Cherokee County on Tuesday evening.

Long is also a suspect in shootings at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa on Piedmont Road in Atlanta that occurred about 45 minutes later. Three people were killed at Gold Spa and one more at Aromatherapy.

Atlanta police revealed Thursday they're still struggling, after nearly 48 hours since the shootings took place, to make positive identifications of their four victims and notifying those surviving loved ones.

"We need to make sure that we have a true verification of their identities and that we make the proper next-of-kin notification," Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton told reporters, adding that police are working closely with South Korean diplomats to find family members.

"We just ask that you just respect the families that are still mourning and some who may not even know yet."

The police spokesman did not rule out possible hate crime charges against the shooter.

"We had four Asian females that were killed and so we are looking at everything to make sure we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides were," Hampton said.

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.

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