BURLINGTON, VT — A suspect has been arrested following the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont. The students were seriously injured following the shooting. Authorities are investigating it as a potential hate crime, according to reports.
The shooting occurred last Saturday evening while the students were visiting one of the victims’ relatives for Thanksgiving. They were out for a stroll when the attack ensued. Two of the students were wearing the Palestinian kaffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian headdress, when they were shot.
The victims are Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut and Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding.
The suspect, Jason J. Eaton, 48, made an appearance in court via video from jail. He is being held without bail on three counts of attempted murder. Reports state he is pleading not guilty to the reported crimes.
It has been reported that the U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime. Amid the ongoing violence in Gaza, Muslim, Arab and Jewish individuals fear a spike in threats and hate crimes against them.
Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad shared information with reporters regarding the incident.
“They stated that the person had not made any comments to them and had merely approached them while they were walking down the street, essentially minding their own business,” he said, according to the AP News.
The AP News also reported Murad stated that two of the victims were hit in their torsos and the third was shot in the lower limbs. They were taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center to be treated. A family member of one of the victims shared that one suffered a spinal injury, thus leading to a long recovery ahead.
“I’ve been with them almost constantly since Saturday evening,” Rich Price, the uncle of one of the victims, said, according to the AP News. “I’ve been listening to them talk to one another and try to process the events, and I’m blown away by their resilience, by their good humor in the face of these difficult times.”
The Institute for Middle East Understanding reported a statement from victims’ families on the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter.
Part of the statement reads:
“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. We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. 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.”
The AP News also reported that the victims have known each other and have been close friends since first grade, where they all attended Ramallah Friends School in the West Bank.
“Our students are not safe in their own country because of the occupation,” Rania Ma’ayeh, head of the Ramallah Friends School, said in a statement. “They’re studying abroad and have a bright future ahead of them, and look at what happens. This has deeply shaken us.”
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said the shooting was, “one of the most shocking and disturbing events in this city’s history” in a news conference Monday. A CBS News report reported that Weinberger also said that the charges against Eaton hold potential life sentences.
“I hope that Burlington’s Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities see in yesterday’s prompt arrest the city’s commitment to justice and keeping all members of our community safe,” Weinberger said, according to a CBS News report.