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3 Palestinian college students shot in Vermont are hospitalized in the ICU as suspect pleads not guilty – CNN

Published November 27, 2023 By admin


Investigators are “working hard” to determine the motive behind a shooting that left three Palestinian college students wounded in Vermont, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said Monday.

“We still do not know as much as we want to know,” Murad said at a press conference two days after the shooting. “But I would urge the public and you in the media to avoid making conclusions based on statements from people who know even less than we currently do. We are working hard to find out this information.”

Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested Sunday and charged with three counts of attempted murder in the second degree. He pleaded not guilty Monday and is being held without bond.

“Although we do not yet have evidence to support a hate crime enhancement, I do want to be clear that there is no question, this was a hateful act,” prosecutor State Attorney Sarah George said Monday.

The three 20-year-old students remain hospitalized in an intensive care unit Monday, said Rich Price, the uncle of one of the shooting victims who was hosting the students for Thanksgiving.

The shooting victims are Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, which provided statements on behalf of the victims’ families.

The three students were in Burlington to visit Hisham Awartani’s grandmother for Thanksgiving and were going on a walk before dinner when they were shot, said Marwan Awartani, a former Palestinian education minister who is speaking on behalf of the victims’ families.

“Their lives have been changed forever,” Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said. “One in particular faces a tremendous struggle and recovery, with injuries that may be lifelong.”

The victims’ families and several civil rights groups have urged investigators to carefully examine whether the shooting was motivated by hate. The attack came amid a reported rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias incidents in the US since the war between Israel and Hamas ignited last month.

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” the police chief said in a news release over the weekend.

At Monday’s press conference, the chief said some of the victims have been interviewed by detectives.

“They stated that the (suspect) had not made any comments to them and had merely approached them while they were walking down the street, essentially minding their own business. And they were speaking in a mixture of English and Arabic,” Murad said.

“They had no knowledge of this individual, had not encountered him before. He stepped off a porch and produced a firearm and began discharging that firearm.”

An attorney for the victims’ families, Abed Ayoub, said he believes the students were targeted in part because two of them were wearing keffiyehs – traditional Palestinian scarves.

“The suspect walked up to them and shot them. They weren’t robbed, they weren’t mugged,” Ayoub told CNN on Sunday, before the arrest was announced. “It was a targeted shooting and a targeted crime.”

Eaton was arrested Sunday afternoon near the scene of the attack, about a day after he allegedly shot the trio of victims, Burlington police said. At Monday’s arraignment hearing, the judge ordered Eaton – who appeared virtually wearing an orange jumpsuit – to be held without bond.

The case has garnered national attention amid rising reports of hate crimes since the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

Authorities said Eaton lives in an apartment building in front of the shooting scene and a search of his home uncovered evidence that gave investigators “probable cause to believe that Mr. Eaton perpetrated the shooting.”

During the search of the suspect’s home, authorities recovered a .380 semi-automatic Ruger pistol, a law enforcement source said. The weapon was taken to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ballistics lab, where experts are firing a comparison bullet to examine it against the bullets recovered from the victims and shell casings recovered at the scene.

If convicted on the attempted murder charges, Eaton faces up to life in prison. The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont and other authorities are also investigating whether the shooting may have been a hate crime, officials said.

After Monday’s hearing, Eaton’s attorney Margaret Jansch said it was “premature to speculate” about a possible hate crime motivation.

Asked by reporters what the suspect said to his lawyers, Jansch said that information was privileged. “Anything he may have said to us we cannot disclose,” Jansch said.

At around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, ATF agents encountered Eaton as they were canvassing the shooting area and detained the suspect, police said.

When ATF agents approached Eaton, the suspect allegedly told them, “I’ve been waiting for you,” according to a probable cause affidavit.

Eaton told investigators there was a shotgun in his apartment, the affidavit says. But he would not identify himself or say whether there were other firearms in his home, the court document states.

A search warrant shows he had a Ruger .380 LCP pistol, along with a loaded magazine with five rounds inside his top dresser drawer.

Eaton has not been a Vermont resident for long, the Burlington police chief said Monday. Investigators believe he arrived in the summer from the Syracuse, New York, area. Burlington authorities’ only previous interaction with Eaton was a 2016 traffic stop, Murad said.

Before coming to the US for college, the three men attended school together at the Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker-run private nonprofit school in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to the head of the school, Rania Maayeh.

In a statement Monday, the school welcomed the news of Eaton’s arrest and urged authorities to consider the possibility that the shooting was “motivated by hate.”

“Tragically, this incident is yet another example of the diminished regard for the lives, suffering, and inherent humanity of Palestinians. Let this incident be a stark reminder of the urgent need to challenge and change the discourse that deems us as anything less than fully human; people who are deserving of empathy, compassion, rights, life, freedom, and happiness,” the statement read.

One of the victims, Awartani, was shot in the spine but is stable, according to Maayeh, who visited his mother in Ramallah. His mother, Elizabeth Price, is trying to leave Ramallah and travel to the US to see her son, Maayeh said.

Awartani is immobilized as doctors work to increase blood flow to his spine, according to a source close to Price.

“We are praying that he can walk,” Maayeh said.

Elizabeth Price said she never expected her son would be targeted in America, believing it a safe place.

“I would want anyone who shot him to be behind bars so that there’s no chance that could happen again,” Price told CNN in a phone interview. “But I also want to focus on making sure that my son heals … psychologically and physically.”

At Monday’s news conference in Burlington, the uncle of Kinnan Abdalhamid also expressed frustration that his nephew would be shot in America, despite his family’s belief that it would be safer than Ramallah.

“Kinnan grew up in the West Bank, and we always thought that that could be more of a risk in terms of his safety, and sending him here would be the right decision,” Radi Tamimi said.

“I feel somehow betrayed in that decision here, and we’re just trying to come to terms with everything.”

Rich Price, Awartani’s uncle, echoed that sentiment, saying the shooting reflected a “level of civic vitriol” and “hatred that exists in some corners of this country.” It also “speaks to a sickness of gun violence that exists in this country,” he said.

While the families fear the shooting was motivated by hate, both Rich Price and Tamimi said they believe in due process and the presumption of innocence.

“We are absolutely willing to wait to find out and let due process take its course,” Tamimi said.

Amid their calls for justice, the victims’ families and civil rights groups have reiterated that the shooting occurred amid near-constant anxieties among some Muslim and Arab communities in the US who report fearing for their safety since the war in the Middle East began.

“We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice,” the families’ statement said. “We need to ensure that our children are protected, and this heinous crime is not repeated.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, said the attack comes “as Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians across the country report a surge in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate since the escalation of violence in Palestine and Israel last month.”

The group said it was offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the shooting.

CAIR said earlier this month that it documented a more than 200% increase (compared to the same period last year) in requests for help and reported anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias incidents in the month since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.

At Brown University, where Awartani attends college, the president acknowledged that many on campus have expressed “deep anxiety and fear about rising tensions and violence locally, globally and around the world.”

“I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence — this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world — will leave many in our community deeply shaken,” Brown president Christina H. Paxson said in a statement.

“We know it will heighten concerns about personal safety and security for Palestinian and Arab members of our community,” she added.

This story has been updated with additional information.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Hisham Awartani’s mother. It is Elizabeth Price.

CNN’s Dianne Gallagher, Joe Sutton, Zenebou Sylla, Eva McKend, Khalil Abdallah, Zoe Sottile, Michelle Watson and Alisha Ebrahimji contributed to this report.



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