Three students of Palestinian descent shot in Vermont, suspect arrested

By Gabriella Borter and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) -A suspect was arrested in the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Vermont, local police reported early on Monday, an attack under investigation as a suspected hate-motivated crime.

A man with a pistol shot and wounded the three victims on the street near the University of Vermont in Burlington on Saturday evening and then ran away, police said in an earlier statement.

A suspect, identified as Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested on Sunday afternoon, the department later confirmed. Burlington police and the mayor’s office will hold a news conference later on Monday to discuss the incident and arrest, the police said.

Two of the victims are U.S. citizens and the third is a legal U.S. resident, all 20 years old, police said. At the time of the attack, two of the men were wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional black-and-white checkered scarf worn in Middle East, police said.

The victims were reported to have been speaking Arabic when attacked, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, a nonprofit pro-Palestinian advocacy organization. It also said the assailant opened fire on the three men after he began to shout at and harass them. Police say he fired four shots without saying a word.

The shooting came amid a rise in anti-Islamic and antisemitic incidents reported around the United States since a bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas erupted in the Middle East on Oct. 7.

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement earlier.

“That there is an indication that this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling, and this possibility is being prioritized” by police, Mayor Miro Weinberger said.

Families of the victims issued a joint statement earlier in the day urging authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, as did the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a U.S.-based advocacy group.

“The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent,” ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said.

The families identified the victims as Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdel Hamid, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ahmed, who attends Trinity College in Connecticut. All three are graduates of the Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker secondary school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the families said.

Two of the students were visiting the home of the third student’s family in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Police said all three remained under medical care on Sunday, two with gunshot wounds in their torsos and one shot in the lower extremities. “Two are stable, while one has sustained much more serious injuries,” police said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Caitlin Webber, Utkarsh Shetti and Susan Heavey; Editing by Josie Kao, Lisa Shumaker, Neil Fullick and Chizu Nomiyama)