Three 20-year-old Palestinian men were shot Saturday night in Burlington, Vermont, in what is suspected to be a possible hate crime.
Burlington police said the three men, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, were in town to celebrate Thanksgiving with Awartani’s family. The three men were speaking a mixture of English and Arabic, and two of them were wearing keffiyeh scarves. A white man approached them on the street and fired four rounds, then fled on foot.
Police arrested a suspect, identified as 48-year-old Jason Eaton, on Sunday afternoon. He has been charged with three counts of attempted murder. Police are still investigating a possible motive.
All three men are now in the intensive care unit at a local hospital, Awartani’s uncle, Rich Price, said in a news conference Monday. Awartani has a spinal injury and may face “lifelong” recovery, Price said. All three men are expected to survive, and Price said he has been in contact with all of them.
In a joint statement, the victims’ families said they are “extremely concerned” about the “safety and well-being” of their children.
“We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime,” the statement reads. “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.”
At Monday’s news conference, two of the victims’ uncles spoke of the “tragic irony” of their nephews, who have deep familial connections to the West Bank, being attacked in America.
“My sister lives in the occupied West Bank, and people often ask me, ‘Aren’t you worried about your sister?’” Price said. “The reality is, as difficult as their life is, they are surrounded by an incredible sense of community. ‘Tragic irony’ is not even the right phrase, to have them come visit me on Thanksgiving and have something like this happen.”
On Sunday, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee posted on X, formerly Twitter, that they have “reason to believe that the shooting was motivated by the three victims being Arab” because they were “wearing a Kuffiyeh and speaking Arabic.”
“Violence of any kind against any person in our community is totally unacceptable and we will do everything in our power to find the perpetrator and hold them fully accountable,” Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a news release. “That there is an indication this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling, and this possibility is being prioritized in the BPD’s investigation. The City of Burlington has zero tolerance for hate crimes and will work relentlessly to bring the shooter to justice.”
Jon Murad, Burlington’s chief of police, said in the news release that “no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” but he urged the public to “avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
Weinberger said Monday that he’d had an “extended phone call” with President Joe Biden, and that he thanked Biden for his care for the victims.
The ADC is calling on police and the FBI to investigate the Burlington shooting as a hate crime.
“We are aware of the incident in Burlington and are working with our state and local partners in Vermont,” a spokesperson for the FBI’s field office in Albany, New York, told NBC News. “If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate.”
“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, the ADC’s national executive director. “Given the information collected and provided, it is clear that the hate was a motivating factor in this shooting, and we call on law enforcement to investigate it as such. The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent.”
“Hate has no place here, or anywhere,” Sanders said. “I look forward to a full investigation. My thoughts are with them and their families.”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) said in a statement that the shooting is a “tragedy” and Vermont’s federal partners are “ready to assist.”
“I urge Vermonters to unite to help the community heal, and not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness,” Scott said. “We must come together in these difficult times ― it is the only way to put a stop to the violence we’re seeing.”