Man arrested over shooting of three Palestinian students in Vermont

Police in the US state of Vermont have arrested a man in connection with the shooting of three Palestinian students. 

Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali, and Kenan Abdulhamid were shot on their way to family dinner during the Thanksgiving holidays near the University of Vermont campus on Saturday evening.

Police arrested Jason J. Eaton on Sunday afternoon after conducting a search of his apartment in front of the shooting location in Burlington. The 48-year-old is set to be formally charged on Monday.

Authorities previously said that the attack that injured the three men around 6:25 pm may have been a hate crime.

Two of the men are in stable condition and the other suffered “much more serious injuries,” Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement Sunday. 

The three men, all age 20, were walking during a visit to the home of one of the victim’s relatives when a white man confronted them with a handgun, he added.

“Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled,” Murad said. “All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities.”

A sign on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington.

The victims are all of Palestinian descent. Two are US citizens and the third is a legal resident. Two of the men were wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, Murad stated.

The Police Chief pointed out that they do not yet have any additional information to suggest a motive and warned against “making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less”.

“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,” he said.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee released a statement on Sunday saying there is “reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab.”

A man shouted and harassed the victims, who were conversing in Arabic, then proceeded to shoot them, the statement said.

The Institute for Middle East Understanding posted a statement on X that the institute said was from the victims’ families.

“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” the statement said. “We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice.”

Ramallah Friends School posted a statement on Facebook saying the three young men were graduates of the private school in the West Bank.

“While we are relieved to know that they are alive, we remain uncertain about their condition and hold them in the light,” the school said. “We stand united in hope and support for their well-being during this challenging time.”

In response to the shooting, US House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries encouraged people to “unequivocally denounce the startling rise of anti-Arab hate and Islamophobia in America.”

“No one should ever be targeted for their ethnicity or religious affiliation in our country,” the New York Democrat said in the statement posted on X. 

“We will not let hatred win.”

Demonstrations in the US have been widespread and tensions have escalated as the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war. 

A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the militants freed more hostages and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners. 

It was the third exchange under a four-day truce deal.

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