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Police in Vermont make arrest after shooting of three men of Palestinian descent

A photo of three young people wearing keffiyehs and with their arms around one another.
Institute for Middle East Understanding
/
Courtesy
Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad are being identified by multiple organizations as college students of Palestinian descent who were shot in Burlington on Saturday night.

This story was last updated at 7:45 a.m. Monday, Nov. 27. Read our latest coverage from Monday here.

The Burlington Police Department says it has arrested a man in connection with the shooting of three young men of Palestinian descent in Burlington Saturday.

Police say they detained Jason J. Eaton, 48, around 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Officers later searched Eaton's apartment, BPD says, and found enough probable cause for his arrest.

Eaton is scheduled to be arraigned later this morning.

The following reporting was last updated at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26.

As of Sunday midday, the Burlington Police Department said two of the men are currently in stable condition, while the third has sustained much more serious injuries.

The victims' families and civil rights organizations are calling on Vermont law enforcement to investigate the shooting as a hate crime.

According to a press release from Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad, the department received calls around 6:25 p.m. Saturday reporting people had been shot near North Prospect Street.

Officers found three people with injuries from gunfire, Murad wrote in the release, and two were treated at the scene by the Burlington Fire Department before being transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center. Murad said the BPD brought the third person to UVMMC.

Murad said in a second press release on Sunday afternoon that the shooter hadn’t been caught or identified.

"The three were walking on Prospect Street when they were confronted by a white male with a handgun," Murad wrote. "Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot. All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities."

Murad said that the BPD doesn't identify victims of crimes, and that the three victims in this case asked that their names not be shared at this time.

But Murad noted in the press release that all three victims are 20-year-old men of Palestinian descent.

"Two are US citizens and one is a legal resident. Two were wearing keffiyehs at the time of the assault," Murad wrote, in reference to the traditional Palestinian scarf. "At this time, there is no additional information to suggest the suspect’s motive, such as statements or remarks by the suspect."

That the suspect did not speak to the victims before shooting them was confirmed Sunday evening by the families of the victims through the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU).

That's an update to earlier information shared Sunday morning by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which said the three victims were speaking Arabic when “a man shouted and harassed the victims, then proceeded to shoot them.”

"We have reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab," ADC said in the Sunday morning statement.

On Sunday evening, ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub wrote in a statement to the IMEU: "The fact that the shooter said nothing, and apparently targeted the students based on their kuffiyehs, suggests that this was a violent act motivated by anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment."

The ADC, which also says it's been in touch with the families of the victims, has identified them as Palestinian-American, Arab students attending U.S. colleges: Hisham Awartani of Brown University, Kinnan Abdalhamid of Haverford College and Tahseen Ali Ahmad of Trinity College.

The West Bank alma mater of the three victims, Ramallah Friends School, also provided those same IDs, as did the IMEU, which shared a joint statement from the families of Awartani, Abdalhamid and Ali Ahmad:

“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."

The families went on to call for law enforcement to investigate thoroughly, including treating the incident as a hate crime.

The ADC also asked Vermont law enforcement to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, and said it has reached out to the Department of Justice and FBI to ask for a hate crimes investigation.

“We are praying for a full recovery of the victims, and will stand by to support the families in any way that is needed,” said Abed Ayoub, with the ADC. “The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent.”

Reports of Islamophobia — and antisemitism — have increasedin the U.S. following the latest outbreak in the Israel-Hamas war since Oct. 7.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has called on state and federal authorities "to investigate a possible bias motive" for the Burlington shooting.

CAIR is offering a $10,000 reward for information "leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators" of the shooting.

BPD Chief Jon Murad wrote in the Sunday press release that the department is working with the FBI and has been in touch with Vermont State Police, the U.S. Attorney of Vermont and the state's congressional delegation, among others.

“My deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families,” Murad wrote in his statement. “In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven. But now that the victims are safe and receiving medical care, our next priority is identifying, locating, and apprehending the suspect."

Murad added: "We’re working every investigatory angle on this case, and will continue to provide reliable, factual information to [the] public while protecting the victims and our investigation. The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now. But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”

In their statement, the families of the victims said they “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,” they wrote. “Our children are dedicated students who deserve to be able to focus on their studies and building their futures."

They also noted their appreciation of local community support, and asked "that no one make donations to fundraisers unless specifically organized by our families. At this time, we ask for privacy to give us the space to provide our children with the support they need to get through this tragedy."

Officials respond

Vermont's congressional delegation all condemned the shooting Sunday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a written statement: "It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT. Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation. My thoughts are with them and their families.”

Rep. Becca Balint shared similar sentiments on the social media platform X formerly known as Twitter, including her expectation for there to be "a full investigation into any evidence of a hate crime."

Sen. Peter Welch said on X that Vermont does "not tolerate hate or Islamophobia" and that he expects law enforcement "to quickly identify the shooter and their motive."

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott called the shooting "a tragedy."

"I have offered the State’s full support to the Mayor and Burlington Police Chief as this senseless crime is investigated, and in support of the Palestinian and broader Burlington community," Scott wrote in a statement Sunday.

He added: “I urge Vermonters to unite to help the community heal, and not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness. We must come together in these difficult times — it is the only way to put a stop to the violence we’re seeing.”

Burlington's mayor, Miro Weinberger, made a similar call for unity in a statement Sunday.

"I am asking Burlingtonians... to stand together, to support these victims, their families, and communities with love and kindness," he said.

Weinberger added that it was unacceptable for "violence of any kind against any person" to happen in the Queen City.

"That there is an indication this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling," he said. "The City of Burlington has zero tolerance for hate crimes and will work relentlessly to bring the shooter to justice."

University of Vermont leaders sent a statement out Sunday saying they weren't aware of any specific threat to the UVM community, but that resources were available to those impacted by the shooting.

UVM officials also said that the campus would up its security measures "as is common in the wake of any significant safety incident."

Rally Sunday evening

A number of local organizations including University of Vermont Students for Justice in Palestine, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace Vermont and New Hampshireput together a solidarity rally Sunday evening.

It began at 5 p.m. in front of Burlington City Hall, and a few hundred people attended.

A photo of a group of people, with a sign in black and white reading "within our lifetimes Palestine will be free"
Kevin Trevellyan
/
Vermont Public
Several hundred people attended a rally in Burlington Sunday evening following the news that three men of Palestinian descent were shot and injured on Saturday.

Among them was Wafic Faour, a Palestinian activist who lives in Richmond and who advocates for racial and social justice. He says since the Israel-Hamas war started up again last month, he’s called his family many times a day to check in.

"And today, I received so many calls from my family members to ask me, 'How am I? Is that possible in Vermont?'" Faour said. "Yes, it is possible.”

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was also in attendance.

“I stand here to stand with oppressed people who now fear for their lives just walking down the street here in Burlington," Zuckerman said.

Olivia Moseley came to the rally from Essex.

"I think it's hard not to see the attempted murder of three young Palestinians wearing the Palestinian keffiyehs, the scarf, at a time when we're seeing increased attacks throughout the U.S.," Moseley said. "I don't think it's possible to separate those things."

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Corrected: November 27, 2023 at 7:49 AM EST
An earlier version of this story said Burlington police arrested Jason Eaton around 3:30 p.m. Sunday after searching his apartment. But according to police, a judge granted a search warrant for officers to search Eaton's apartment later on Sunday night.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
Brittany Patterson joined Vermont Public in December 2020. Previously, she was an energy and environment reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Valley ReSource. Prior to that, she covered public lands, the Interior Department and forests for E&E News' ClimateWire, based in Washington, D.C. Brittany also teaches audio storytelling and has taught classes at West Virginia University, Saint Michael's College and the University of Vermont. She holds degrees in journalism from San Jose State University and U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. A native of California, Brittany has fallen in love with Vermont. She enjoys hiking, skiing, baking and cuddling with her rescues, a 95-pound American Bulldog mix named Cooper, and Mila, the most beautiful calico cat you'll ever meet.

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