BURLINGTON, Vt. (TCD) — A man has pleaded not guilty to allegedly shooting three Palestinian college students who were in the area for Thanksgiving weekend.
According to the probable cause affidavit, on Saturday, Nov. 25, at 6:26 p.m., Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Aliahmad, and Kinnan Abdalhamid were walking when a man approached them and opened fire in front of a building at 69 N. Prospect St. One victim sustained a gunshot wound where the bullet got lodged in his spine. Another victim was shot in the chest and the third was hit in his right glute. At the scene, investigators discovered four .380 cartridges and one bullet.
All three victims are 20 years old and attended Ramallah Friends School in Palestine for high school, then came to the United State for college. Awartani goes to Brown University in Rhode Island, Abdalhamid attends Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and Aliahmad is studying at Trinity College in Connecticut.
Investigators identified Jason Eaton as the suspect in the shootings. An ATF Special Agent went to his apartment at 69 N. Prospect St. Eaton opened the door and allegedly said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” He confirmed that he owned a Ruger .380 pistol, which he purchased in April.
Burlington Police Department detectives obtained a search warrant for Eaton’s apartment and located the pistol in a dresser drawer. He was then arrested on three counts of attempted second-degree murder.
Vermont Public Radio reports Eaton appeared in court Monday, Nov. 27, and pleaded not guilty to the charges. A judge ordered him to be held without bail.
Burlington Police detectives spoke with the three victims, who said they were on a walk on North Prospect Street when the shooting occurred.
According to the affidavit, the victims arrived in Burlington on Nov. 22 and were staying at Awartani’s grandmother’s house at 140 N. Prospect St. Awartani told the detective he and his friends spent most of their time watching television and going on walks together.
On the night of the shooting, they were reportedly speaking a mix of Arabic and English, and he and Aliahmad were both wearing traditional Palestinian headscarves known as keffiyeh. Abdalhamid was not wearing one when he was shot, but he told police he was wearing one the day prior.
Vermont Public Radio reports Awartani, Aliahmad, and Abdalhamid are in the intensive care unit.
In a news conference Monday, Nov. 27, Burlington Police Chief John Murad called the shooting an “unprovoked and terrible crime and their lives have been changed forever.”
Murad continued, “One in particular faces a tremendous struggle and recovery with injuries that may be lifelong.”
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said, “Although we do not yet have evidence to support a hate crime enhancement, there is no question this was a hateful act.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont said in a statement, “The United States Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division will assess the evidence generated to determine whether a federal crime may have been committed.”
The Institute for the Middle East Understanding released a statement on behalf of the three families said the shooting was a “crime fueled by hate.”
The statement said, “We believe a full investigation is likely to show our sons were targeted and violently attacked simply for being Palestinian. Full justice and accountability is important, and needed to ensure that this type of brutal and violent attack does not happen again. No one’s child should be attacked simply because of their identity. Our children, Palestinian children, like everyone else, deserve to feel safe.”
The families wrote, “Our sons have been close friends since childhood, each of them uniquely brilliant, kind, and talented. We were so excited for them to attend prestigious universities in the United States, and believed that they would be safe here. Instead, they were viciously targeted in a brutal attack that plunged us as parents into our worst nightmares.”
- State of Vermont v. Jason Eaton
- Jason Eaton pleads not guilty to shooting three students of Palestinian descent visiting Burlington, Vermont – Vermont Public Radio
- Burlington Mayor and Police Chief Press Conference – Town Meeting TV
- Statement of United States Attorney Kerest Regarding Shooting of Three Young Men in Burlington – U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont
- Joint statement from the families of Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, three Palestinian college students shot in Vermont – Institute for the Middle East Understanding
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