Arrest Made After 3 Palestinian College Students Shot In Burlington, Vermont, Police Say

The three men were in Burlington visiting the home of one of the victim's relatives for Thanksgiving, police said. They were on Prospect Street when an armed white man confronted them and, without speaking, allegedly discharged at least four rounds around 6:30 p.m.

Monday, November 27th 2023, 8:42 am

By: CBS News


Burlington, Vermont, police have arrested a white man who is suspected of shooting three 20-year-old men of Palestinian descent on Saturday, police said. 

The three men were in Burlington visiting the home of one of the victim's relatives for Thanksgiving, police said. They were on Prospect Street when an armed white man confronted them and, without speaking, allegedly discharged at least four rounds around 6:30 p.m.

Two of the victims were shot in the torso while the third man was shot in his lower extremities, police said. Two of the victims were in what police described as stable condition. The third victim "sustained much more serious injuries."

Two of the victims were wearing keffiyehs, scarfs that have come to symbolize Palestinian solidarity, officials said. Police said two of the victims are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident. 

Police detained Jason J. Eaton, 48, around 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Burlington police said Sunday night. Evidence collected during a search of Eaton's home several hours after he was detained "gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that Mr. Eaton perpetrated the shooting," police said. He was then arrested and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, police said.

Police did not immediately provide any information on a possible motive.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Vermont on Sunday night said it was investigating to determine whether a federal crime had been committed.

"We recognize the suffering and heartbreak that the three men who were wounded, their families, and their communities are experiencing," Nikolas P. Kerest, U.S. Attorney for Vermont, said in a statement.

The FBI Albany field office said Sunday night it was also investigating the shooting.

Investigators don't know as much as they'd like, Burlington police chief Jon Murad said. He urged the public to avoid jumping to 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," Murad said. "And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it's proven. But now that the victims are safe and receiving medical care, our next priority is identifying, locating, and apprehending the suspect. We're working every investigatory angle on this case, and will continue to provide reliable, factual information to public while protecting the victims and our investigation."

Police did not identify the victims by name, but the victim's families later identified them in a statement. All three victims attended Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker-run private nonprofit school in Ramallah. Currently, Hisham Awartani is a student at Brown University, Kinnan Abdalhamid is a student at Haverford College and Tahseen Ahmed is a student at Trinity College, according to their family members.

Police: arrest made after 3 Palestinian college students shotImage Provided By: CBS News

"As parents, we are devastated by the horrific news that our children were targeted and shot in Burlington, VT. At this time, our primary concern is their full recovery and that they receive the critical medical support they need to survive. We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children," the parents said in a joint statement. 

"We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime," the parents said. "We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice. We need to ensure that our children are protected, and this heinous crime is not repeated. 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."

Awartani's uncle, Rich Price, told CBS Boston station WBZ-TV the three students were spending the holiday weekend with his family in Burlington when it happened.

"We were so happy to have them visit us for Thanksgiving," said Price.

"They grew up in the occupied West Bank under military control... they just couldn't imagine this could happen in a place like Vermont," he said. He told the station the thee students had gone for a walk in the neighborhood Saturday after returning from an 8th birthday party for Price's twin boys.

"They were approached by this individual who pulled a handgun on them and shot all three of them," Price said.

Haverford's president and dean shared a joint statement about the shooting on Sunday. 

"Kinnan and his friends are all Palestinian students studying at U.S. colleges and universities," they wrote. "Police are investigating the shootings, and we await word on whether it will be pursued as a hate crime."

Trinity's president and vice president also shared a joint statement, saying they were "heartbroken" to learn Ahmed was one of the victims of gun violence. 

"A member of the Trinity Student Life staff went to Vermont early this morning to provide support and reports that Tahseen wants the Trinity community to know that he is in stable condition at an area hospital, and that he is aware this message is being released," they wrote. 

Awartani remained hospitalized Sunday, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said in a statement. He is expected to survive his injuries.

"There are not enough words to express the deep anguish I feel for Hisham, his parents and family members, and his friends. 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," Paxson said. "The family has given us permission to share that Hisham Awartani, a junior at Brown, remains hospitalized, and we were very relieved and grateful to learn that he is expected to survive his injuries."

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said it has "reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab."

"We are praying for a full recovery of the victims, and will stand by to support the families in any way that is needed," said ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub. "Given the information collected and provided, it is clear that the hate was a motivating factor in this shooting, and we call on law enforcement to investigate it as such. The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent."

A White House official on Sunday said President Biden had been briefed on the shooting. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders responded to the shooting in a post on social media.

"It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT," he said. "Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation. My thoughts are with them and their families."

Saturday's shooting comes more than a month after the stabbing death of a 6-year-old Palestinian boy in the Chicago area. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which describes itself as the country's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, in early November said there'd been an "unprecedented surge" in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias incidents reported in the U.S. since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

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