Three Palestinian college students were shot and wounded in Burlington, Vermont Saturday evening, according to a press release from Burlington police. The victims include Brown undergraduate Hisham Awartani ’25, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad.
Awartani “remains hospitalized, and we were very relieved and grateful to learn that he is expected to survive his injuries,” President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 wrote in a message to the Brown community Sunday evening.
The three students were going to a relative’s home for dinner, the New York Times reported. Marwan Awartani, Hisham Awartani’s great-uncle and the Palestinian Authority’s former education minister, told the Times that the bullet hit Hisham Awartani’s spinal cord. He then “lost feeling in the lower part of his body.”
Ahmad, who attends Trinity College, was shot in his chest, according to the Times. He is in stable condition, according to a statement from Trinity, NBC News reported.
The suspect, 48-year-old Jason Eaton, was detained Sunday and appeared in court Monday morning.
The shooting took place at 6:25 p.m. Saturday, and safety personnel brought all three victims to the University of Vermont Medical Center, according to VTDigger.
“The three were walking … when they were confronted by a white male with a handgun,” Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad wrote in a press release, Vermont Public reported. “Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot.”
Two of the three were wearing keffiyehs, according to the release. Murad noted that “in this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” adding that the department is working with the FBI and Vermont State Police. “I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” Murad wrote.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee wrote in a statement that “the three victims were wearing a kuffiyeh and speaking Arabic. A man shouted and harassed the victims, then proceeded to shoot them.”
Parents of the victims wrote in a statement that their “primary concern is their full recovery and that they receive the critical medical support they need to survive.” The comments were released through the Institute for Middle East Understanding on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The parents also called on law enforcement agencies to treat the incident as a hate crime. “We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice,” the statement reads.
The parents of the victims also requested that no donations go to fundraisers “unless specifically organized by our families.”
“In love, grief and rage we are praying for a swift recovery to our classmate Hisham Awartani and his friends Kinnan Adbel Hamid and Tahseen Ahmed,” Brown Students for Justice in Palestine wrote in a post shared on the group’s Instagram story.
“There are not enough words to express the deep anguish I feel for Hisham, his parents and family members and his friends,” Paxson wrote. “I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence — this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world — will leave many in our community deeply shaken.”
Paxson added that at her request, the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life has coordinated a vigil on the Main Green Monday at 4:30 p.m.
“I call on our community to come together to condemn anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and acts of violence and hate, and express care and empathy for one another,” Paxson wrote.
All three students attended Ramallah Friends School in the West Bank before attending college in the U.S., according to a Facebook post from the school. Ahmad currently attends Trinity College, and Abdalhamid attends Haverford College.
The University is “prepared to offer ongoing support for those with concerns about their emotional and physical safety across identities, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives,” Paxson wrote.
Basil Awartani, who identified himself as Hisham Awartani’s cousin, shared in a post on X that the group was shot for “simply wearing keffiyehs and speaking Arabic. Dangerous performative rhetoric from US pundits and politicians, as well as constant dehumanization of Palestinians, has a real-life cost.”
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) described the shooting as “shocking and deeply upsetting,” adding that he looks “forward to a full investigation.” President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation, the Associated Press reported.
Since Oct. 7, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has received 1,283 complaints of “anti-Muslim or anti-Arab bias,” a 216% increase over the same period last year.
“If Palestinians had to hold vigils every time our people were massacred, we would be bankrupt from buying candles,” Hisham Awartani said in his speech at a vigil on Brown’s campus held over a month ago, The Herald previously reported. “There is no respite for us.”
Additional Reporting by Neil Mehta.
Last updated Nov. 27 at 11:05 a.m.
Katy Pickens is the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.
Will Kubzansky is the 133rd editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald. Previously, he served as a University News editor overseeing the admission & financial aid and staff & student labor beats. In his free time, he plays the guitar and soccer — both poorly.