Police have arrested the suspected gunman in the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington, Vermont, in what is believed to be a bias attack. Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested on Sunday afternoon near the location of Saturday’s attack and is anticipated to make a court appearance on Monday, Burlington Police said.
Eaton lives in an apartment building close to the location of the triple shooting. Authorities arrested him around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday for injuring the three 20-year-olds, according to officials. Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, and Kinnan Abdalhamid were all shot on Saturday while they were going to a family dinner, police and Arab-American officials said.
Arrested Within Hours
At least two of the men, including an Ivy League student at Brown University, were reportedly wearing traditional Keffiyeh scarves when they were shot at, Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian mission in the UK, said in a post on Sunday.
“On Sunday afternoon ATF agents who were conducting a canvass at the location of the shooting encountered and detained Jason J Eaton,” Burlington Police said.
“Detectives completed a search warrant for Mr Eaton’s residence in the apartment building in front of which the shooting took place.
“Evidence collected during that search warrant and additional evidence developed during the course of this investigation gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that Mr Eaton perpetrated the shooting.”
In an earlier statement, the police said that the three students were walking on Prospect Street “when they were confronted by a white male with a handgun.”
“The suspect was on foot in the area. Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot,’ Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad explained.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” he added.
“I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven.”
Just Out of Hate
Awartani is enrolled at Brown University, Abdalhamid attends Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and Ahmad is a student at Trinity University, as indicated by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Hamid sustained minor injuries in the attack. However, Awartani was shot near the spine and has lost feeling in his legs, as stated by his great-uncle Marwan Awartani, a former education minister of the Palestinian Authority.
Ahmed sustained a gunshot wound to the chest, and his condition is described as “touch and go,” according to Abed A. Ayoub, the national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Abed Ayoub, a lawyer representing the victims’ families, told CNN that at least two of the men were wearing traditional Palestinian Keffiyeh scarves when they were attacked.
The students were also reportedly speaking Arabic when the gunman opened fire, according to the ADC.
Police are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime, considering the backdrop of increasing Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian rhetoric in the US amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict overseas.
“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 on Sunday. “And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven.”
The October 7 terrorist attack by Palestinian Hamas militants on Israel, followed by an Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip, has led to a surge in antisemitic and occasionally anti-Arab violence in the United States. College campuses, including Ivy League schools, have become focal points for unrest.