Suspect pleads not guilty in Vermont triple shooting
Three men were of Palestinian descent
A man pleaded not guilty to attempted murder in connection with the weekend shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Vermont — an attack being investigated as a possible hate crime, authorities said Monday.
Jason J. Eaton, 48, made his initial court appearance by video from jail on three counts of attempted murder, and a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf Monday. He was ordered held without bail.
The U.S. Department of Justice, along with state law enforcement agencies, were investigating whether Saturday’s shooting was a hate crime amid an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across the U.S. since the Israel-Hamas war began, Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “There is understandable fear in communities across the country,” he said.
The three men, all age 20, were spending their Thanksgiving break in Burlington, and were out for a walk while visiting one of the victims’ relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said.
“They stated that the person had not made any comments to them and had merely approached them while they were walking down the street, essentially minding their own business,” Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad told reporters.
Two of the young men were struck in their torsos, while one was hit in the lower extremities, Murad said. All three were being treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and one faces a long recovery because of a spinal injury, a family member said.
“I’ve been with them almost constantly since Saturday evening. I’ve been listening to them talk to one another and try to process the events, and I’m blown away by their resilience, by their good humour in the face of these difficult times,” said Rich Price, the uncle of one of the students.
The Institute for Middle East Understanding, in a statement from victims’ families on X, formerly known as Twitter, identified the men as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” the statement said. “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 three shooting victims have been friends since first grade at Ramallah Friends School, a private school in the West Bank, and all are “remarkable, distinguished students,” said Rania Ma’ayeh, head of the school.
Awartani is studying mathematics and archeology at Brown University in Rhode Island; Abdalhamid is a pre-med student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Ali Ahmad is studying mathematics and IT at Trinity College in Connecticut, Ma’ayeh said. Awartani and Abdalhamid are U.S. citizens while Ali Ahmad is studying on a student visa, Ma’ayeh said.
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