3 Palestinian American college students shot in Vermont in possible hate crime

The men were wounded on the street by a lone gunman during a Thanksgiving visit to Burlington

Burlington emergency responders take Palestinian-American to the hospital after shooting
Burlington police assist Palestinian-American youth after shooting
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/ABC News)

Police in Burlington, Vermont, arrested a suspect Sunday in the shooting and wounding of three 20-year-old men of Palestinian descent as they were walking near the University of Vermont on Saturday evening. Two of the victims are U.S. citizens and the third is a legal resident; all three are juniors at U.S. universities.

Jason Eaton, 48, was arrested Sunday afternoon by federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A search of Eaton's apartment, located in front of the shooting location, "gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause" to believe he was the gunman, Burlington police said. 

The suspect, described as a white man carrying a handgun, confronted the three men and shot them "without speaking," then fled, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said Sunday, before the arrest was announced. Two of the victims were wearing black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, and "in this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime." Police can't confirm a motive yet, however, Murad added, and "I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less."

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Family members of the men and the private Ramallah Friends School they all attended in the West Bank identified the victims as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed. They were headed to Awartani's grandmother's house for dinner when they were shot, relatives said. Murad said two of the men were in stable condition but the third suffered "much more serious injuries." Awartani lost feeling in the lower part of his body after the bullet grazed his spine, relatives said, though he is "expected to survive his injuries," according to Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, where he is a student.

There have been large upticks in reports of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim or anti-Arab incidents since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded with a punishing assault on Gaza. A 6-year-old Palestinian American boy outside Chicago was killed by his landlord in what authorities are prosecuting as a hate crime, and a Jewish protester died of head injuries in Southern California after being confronted by a pro-Palestinian protester now being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Update Nov. 27, 2023: This article has been updated with new information about the suspected gunman.

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