The families of Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, three 20-year-old college students of Palestinian descent who were shot in Vermont, released a statement Tuesday condemning reports that appear to deflect blame for the shooting on the gunman’s mental health issues.
“Millions of people in America and across the globe struggle with mental health challenges. That does not make them pick up a gun and attack people based on their identity,” the statement said.
“We do not accept what this wrongfully implies about people who struggle with their mental health, nor do we accept it as justification or context for this heinous, hate-driven crime,” it continued.
Jason J. Eaton, 48, has been charged with three counts of attempted second-degree murder in the shooting Sunday of the three friends while they were out for a walk in Burlington. Two of the men were wearing keffiyahs, traditional Palestinian scarves, and the three were speaking a mixture of Arabic and English.
The families and advocacy groups said the students were targeted for their Palestinian identity. Burlington police said they are still investigating a motive, but Police Chief Jon Murad referred to it a “hateful act” in a news conference Monday. At the same news conference, Sarah George, the state’s attorney for the county, also said “there is no question that this was hateful act.”
The three men remained hospitalized late Tuesday, two in stable condition and one in critical condition. The shooting has sent shockwaves through the Arab and Muslim communities as they continue to face a surge in hateful rhetoric amid the Israel-Hamas war.
Awartani is a student at Brown University, Abdalhamid at Haverford College and Ali Ahmad at Trinity College. Awartani and Abdalhamid are Palestinian Americans, and Ali Ahmad is studying in the U.S. on a student visa.
Eaton, a Burlington resident who was arraigned Monday, is facing three attempted murder charges, each of which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf Monday, and he’s being held without bail. Some media outlets have included interviews with his mother, who has spoken of his mental health history, and reports about alleged social media postings and his job history.
The families of the three victims have called on the media to cover the shooting “responsibly and respectfully by not attempting to turn their attacker into a victim.”
“Jason Eaton committed an act of horrific violence against our children. One of our kids may never walk again, and they will all live with this trauma for the rest of their lives. Our families are devastated, and our lives forever changed by this hateful attack,” the statement said.