Suspect pleads not guilty in shooting of 3 Palestinian students in Vermont

By Jonna Lorenz
Left to right, students Tahseen Ahmad, Kinnan Abdal Hamid and Hisham Awartani from Palestine who are studying at universities in the United States, were shot in Vermont. Photo courtesy of CAIR
1 of 2 | Left to right, students Tahseen Ahmad, Kinnan Abdal Hamid and Hisham Awartani from Palestine who are studying at universities in the United States, were shot in Vermont. Photo courtesy of CAIR

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- A suspect in Saturday's shooting in Vermont that injured three 20-year-old Palestinian men attending U.S. universities pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder Monday.

Jason Eaton, 48, was arrested Sunday after agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives encountered him while canvassing the area of the shooting, the Burlington Police Department said.


Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said during a news conference Monday that agents canvassing the area knocked on an apartment door near the crime scene and the suspect came out and said "something to the effect of, 'I've been waiting for you.'"

The suspect said he wanted a lawyer and was taken into custody.

Authorities obtained a search warrant for Eaton's residence and collected evidence that they said gave investigators probable cause to believe that Eaton perpetrated the shooting.

Eaton is being held without bail until a hearing can be scheduled in the coming days. He appeared via video before Superior Court Judge A. Gregory Rainville.


A joint statement from family members identified the victims as Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University; Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford College; and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, a student at Trinity College.

Police said Sunday that two of the men were in stable condition and the third had serious injuries, VTDigger reported.

"I want to say that these three young men are incredible," Rich Price, the uncle of Awartani said during a news conference Monday. "And that's not just a proud uncle speaking, but it's true. They have their lives in front of them. They are committed to building incredible lives."

Price said he has been with the young men "almost constantly" since the shooting.

"I'm blown away by their resilience, by their good humor in the face of these difficult times," he said.

Price said the three men were visiting him and they had just returned from celebrating the birthday of his twin 8-year-old children when the young men went for a walk around the block.

Murad said the suspect stepped off a porch on Prospect Street, produced a firearm and began shooting. He identified the weapon as a .380 semiautomatic handgun.

Police didn't provide a motive for the shooting. Authorities were investigating the possibility of a hate crime. Two of the victims are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident. All are of Palestinian descent.


Two of the victims were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarfs, at the time of the shooting. They were speaking a mix of English and Arabic, Murad said.

Price, whose sister lives in the West Bank, said he never imagined such a crime could happen in Burlington.

"Tragic irony is not even the right phrase," Price said. "But to have them come stay with me for Thanksgiving and have something like this happen speaks to the level of civic vitriol, speaks to the level of hatred that exists in some corners of this country. It speaks to a sickness of gun violence that exists in this country.

"Even though this is devastating that this happened in this community, I'm really proud and grateful to the community that is here and has rallied around our family and these boys."

Court records show that Awartani was shot in the spine, Ali Ahmad was struck in the chest and Abdalhamid was shot in the glute. Eaton faces the possibility of life in prison with a presumptive minimum term of 20 years.

"I want to start by stressing how infuriating and atrocious this situation is," Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George said during the news conference. "My office joins the community in the outrage over the gun violence we are experiencing in our community and in our state. We join in the outrage over the hate and inhumanity shown to Hisham, Tahseen and Kinnan."


She said authorities did not have evidence to support a hate-crime enhancement, but that there is no question that the shooting was a hateful act.

"Our media and our social media are often filled with harmful and false rhetoric that provokes hateful beliefs and pits us against one another," George said. "When this rhetoric is coupled with a nation obsessed with firearms and easy access to the same, violence is not just predictable, it is inevitable."

The shooting has drawn international attention amid the war in Gaza. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said Monday's news conference was delayed because he was in a lengthy phone call with President Joe Biden.

"The Saturday evening shooting of three young Palestinian college students visiting Burlington on their holiday break was one of the most shocking and disturbing events in this city's history," Weinberger said.

"This horrific, unprovoked attack was a tragic violation of the values and character of this welcoming, inclusive community."

Later in the afternoon, the White House released a statement from the president, who said he was praying for the victims' recovery.

"While we are waiting for more facts, we know this: There is absolutely no place for violence or hate in America. Period," Biden said. "No person should worry about being shot at while going about their daily lives. And far too many Americans know a family member injured or killed as a result of gun violence. We cannot and we will not accept that."


Biden said he also offered support to Burlington, and he praised the law-enforcement agencies that responded.

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