Three Palestinian college students were shot by an assailant in Burlington, Vermont, on Saturday, according to the Burlington Police Department, in a case believed to be a hate crime.
The students are all 20 years old, according to a press release (pdf), which did not identify the victims. Two of them are U.S. citizens, and one is a legal resident. The incident occurred at around 6:26 p.m. on Nov. 25.
The three students were walking on Prospect Street while visiting a relative’s home in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday when they were “confronted by a white male with a handgun,” police said.
“Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot,” police stated.
Two victims were shot in their torsos and one in the “lower extremities.” They are currently receiving medical care, with two in stable condition, while one has sustained “much more serious injuries.”
A suspect identified as Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested on Sunday. Police discovered that the suspect was living in a building near where the shooting took place.
Police said two of the victims were wearing keffiyehs during the assault but that no information is available to suggest the suspect’s motive at this time.
Police chief Jon Murad said that authorities are still at “the earliest stages” of investigation.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” Mr. Murad said.
Detectives have recovered ballistic evidence from the shooting, which will be submitted to the federal database for further investigation.
Authorities Urged to Investigate Shooting As ‘Hate Crime’
Earlier, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it was offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the shooter’s arrest. It also urged authorities to investigate “a possible bias motive” for the shooting.
The victims’ families issued a joint statement identifying the students as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ali Ahmad. The families are “extremely concerned” about the safety of their 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,” the statement reads.
According to the Ramallah Friends School board, the assailant shot Mr. Hisham in the back, Mr. Tahseen in the chest, and Mr. Kinnan sustained minor injuries. The victims were studying in different colleges.
“While we are relieved to know that they are alive, we remain uncertain about their condition and hold them in the light,” the board stated on Facebook.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said the assailant “shouted and harassed the victims” before shooting them. It urged Vermont’s law enforcement to investigate the case as a hate crime.
“Given the information collected and provided, it is clear that hate was a motivating factor in this shooting, and we call on law enforcement to investigate it as such,” ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said in a statement.
“The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent,” Mr. Ayoub added.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott called the incident “a tragedy” and expressed his hopes for the victims’ full recovery. Mr. Scott said that the Burlington Police will have his full support in their investigation of the case.
“I urge Vermonters to unite to help the community heal and not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness,” he said in a statement.
“We must come together in these difficult times—it is the only way to put a stop to the violence we’re seeing.”
The ongoing Israel–Hamas war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 deadly terror attack on Israeli border communities, has heightened tensions around the world, including in the United States.
On Oct. 14, a six-year-old Palestinian boy was stabbed 26 times, while his mother was stabbed “over a dozen times” by their landlord in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield, Illinois, in a targeted attack that has been charged as a hate crime.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned that the war in the Middle East is creating a “heightened environment” for terrorist attacks in the United States and urged people to stay vigilant.
“There’s no question we’re seeing an increase in reported threats, and we have to be on the lookout, especially for lone actors who may take inspiration from recent events to commit violence of their own,” he told reporters on Oct. 14.
From The Epoch Times