The families of the Palestinian students who were shot Saturday night in Vermont say it’s “hard to imagine” the young men were not targeted.
Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, all 20-year-old college students, were out for a walk during a visit to Burlington when a gunman fired four shots at them, according to police. A suspect, 48-year-old Jason Eaton, was arrested.
All three men are still hospitalized, Rich Price, Awartani’s uncle, said Monday at a press conference. His nephew sustained a spinal injury in the attack and faces a long recovery, Price said, while Abdalhamid is expected to make a full recovery. Ahmad is the “most seriously injured” of the three, police said.
“These three young men are incredible, and that’s not just a proud uncle speaking, but it’s true,” said Price, who was hosting the students for Thanksgiving. “They have their lives in front of them. They are committed to building incredible lives.”
The young men were speaking a mixture of English and Arabic while on a walk around the block when they were struck, police said. Two of the men were wearing keffiyehs, a traditional black and white Palestinian scarf.
The attack has shocked the Arab and Muslim communities at a time when Islamophobia and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiments are on the rise, along with a parallel surge in overt antisemitism. Last month, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy was stabbed to death in Illinois ― allegedly by a landlord angered over the Israel-Hamas war.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger called Saturday’s shooting “one of the most shocking and disturbing events in this city’s history.”
City police declined to comment on a possible motive, saying it will focus its investigation on building a case. Sarah George, the county’s attorney general, said her office does not currently have the evidence to support a hate crime charge, but that “there is no question this was a hateful act.”
Eaton was arraigned Monday and is facing three attempted murder charges, each one carrying a maximum of a life sentence. Eaton described himself on social media as a “radical citizen pa-trolling demockracy and crapitalism for oathcreepers.” His now-deleted page also featured apparent anti-vaccine and anti-trans sentiment.
Eaton pleaded not guilty to the charges in the shooting, and is being held without bail.
Radi Tamimi, Abdalhamid’s uncle who flew to Burlington from California on Monday morning, said at the press conference that it’s “hard to imagine it was a random act.”
Abdalhamid previously lived in the West Bank, and his family hoped he would live a safer life in the U.S.
“We feel somehow betrayed in that decision here,” Tamimi said.
Jon Murad, Burlington’s police chief, said there were 26 shootings in the city last year, and that there have been about 15 or 16 this year.
“Unfortunately, we have become all too good at this in this city,” Murad said Monday.