The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Man arrested after three Palestinian American students injured in Vermont shooting

Police are investigating the incident as a potential hate crime

From left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Hisham Awartani. (Institute for Middle East Understanding)

Police in Vermont are investigating the possibility of a “hate-motivated” crime in the shooting Saturday evening of three Palestinian college students in downtown Burlington, Vt.

Burlington police on Sunday said that a “white male with a handgun” approached the three students as they walked through downtown and, “without speaking,” shot the three men at least four times before fleeing on foot.

“All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities,” the Burlington Police Department said in a statement. All three remain hospitalized, one with very serious injuries, the department added.

In a later statement, Burlington police said Jason J. Eaton, 48, had been arrested in connection with the shooting. After a judge granted a search warrant for Eaton’s residence, evidence collected “gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that Mr. Eaton perpetrated the shooting,” the department said, adding that he will be arraigned Monday.

Jason J. Eaton, 48, a suspect who was arrested in the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, appears at his court arraignment from the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, Vermont, U.S. November 27, 2023 in a still image from Webex video. (Vermont Judiciary/Handout via REUTERS)


The victims’ parents identified them in a statement as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights advocacy group, said it believed the students were targeted because they are Palestinians. Police said two are U.S. citizens and one is a legal U.S. resident.

“As parents, we are devastated by the horrific news that our children were targeted and shot in Burlington, ” the parents said in a statement. “We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. … No family should ever have to endure this pain and agony. Our children are dedicated students who deserve to be able to focus on their studies and building their futures.”

Palestinian Americans face fear, violence amid Israel’s war in Gaza

The ADC said the three men are students at Brown University, Haverford College and Trinity College, respectively, and had gathered in Burlington to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with Awartani’s grandmother.

The ADC also said the students were wearing kaffiyehs, the traditional Arab scarf associated with Palestinians, when they were attacked.

“We have reason to believe that the shooting was motivated by the three victims being Arab,” the ADC statement said.

The Burlington police did not respond to a request to confirm the ADC’s description of the students’ dress and conversation at the time of the attack.

However, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement Sunday that police are investigating the possibility that the attack was “hate motivated.”

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” Murad said.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement that the possibility of a hate crime “is being prioritized in the BPD’s investigation.”

Federal authorities say they have been responding to a rise in threats against Arab, Jewish and Muslim communities as anger over the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict has spilled into protests, street confrontations and targeted attacks thousands of miles from the war zone.

On Oct. 14, an Illinois man fatally stabbed a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy and wounded his mother in an apartment they were renting from him, authorities said. The Justice Department is investigating the killing as a hate crime.

Israel has mounted a massive assault on the densely populated Gaza Strip, killing more than 13,300 Palestinians — including thousands of children — since Oct. 7, when the Hamas militant group launched a brutal cross-border assault on Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking about 240 people into Gaza as hostages.

The Biden administration and U.S. lawmakers from both parties have largely supported Israel in its war, and some lawmakers have echoed Israeli revenge rhetoric that has likened Palestinians to animals or cast doubt on whether Palestinian civilians are truly uninvolved civilians.

Basil Awartani, who identified himself on social media as Awartani’s cousin, suggested Sunday that the shooting in Vermont was a consequence of “dangerous and dehumanizing rhetoric regurgitated by US politicians and right wing pundits.”

Abed Ayoub, the ADC’s national executive director, told The Washington Post on Sunday night that his organization has been in touch with the students’ parents, some of whom were en route to Vermont. Awartani, the Brown University student whose grandmother lives in Burlington, was the most critically injured, Ayoub said.

“Hisham has a bullet lodged in his spine. We don’t know the total damage of that yet. We don’t know how severe, or what that will lead to,” Ayoub said. Another of the men suffered damage to a lung, and the third, who was less critically injured, was expected to be released from the hospital on Sunday, he added, declining to say which.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s biggest Muslim advocacy group, issued a statement Sunday offering a $10,000 reward for information about the shooting in Vermont.

A Palestinian high school in the West Bank, Ramallah Friends, said all three of the men had attended school there before enrolling in U.S. universities.

Allam reported from Cairo.

Abigail Hauslohner is a Washington Post national security reporter focused on Congress. In her decade at the newspaper, she has been a roving national correspondent, writing on topics ranging from immigration to political extremism, and she covered the Middle East as the Post’s Cairo bureau chief. Twitter

Hannah Allam covers extremism and domestic terrorism as part of the National Security team.






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