Man pleads not guilty to attempted murder of 3 Palestinian students in Vermont
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A Burlington, Vt., man pleaded not guilty today to attempted murder charges in a weekend shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent. The students were spending the Thanksgiving holiday in Burlington when a white man confronted them with a handgun and shot them. There has been a sharp rise in threats and incidents against Jewish and Muslim communities around the U.S. since the Israel-Hamas war began. Reporter Liam Elder-Connors with Vermont Public is on this story. Hey there, Liam.
LIAM ELDER-CONNORS, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: Hi. So the victims in this shooting, it was - we mentioned three students, three 20-year-old college students. What more do we know about them?
ELDER-CONNORS: Well, the three have been friends for a long time. They attended the Ramallah Friends School, which is a private Quaker school in the West Bank. They did model U.N. together. And now they're all attending colleges in the U.S. in different states. Hisham Awartani is at Brown University. He's studying math and archaeology. Kinnan Abdalhamid is at Haverford College, studying biology. He also runs track. His uncle said Abdalhamid grew up in the West Bank, and his family thought sending him here to the U.S. would be safer than staying in the occupied West Bank. And then the final victim is Tahseen Ahmed, who goes to Trinity College. He's studying math. He's a pre-med student. And recently, he became a qualified EMT. And like you mentioned, all three were visiting Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday. They were staying with Awartani's uncle, Rich Price, who lives in Burlington. And Price said at a press conference today that the shooting was incredibly distressing.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
RICH PRICE: To have them come stay with me for Thanksgiving and have something like this happen speaks to the level of civic vitriol, speaks to the level of hatred that exists in some corners of this country. It speaks to a sickness of gun violence that exists in this country.
ELDER-CONNORS: Price said that Saturday night, the three of them had been bowling at a birthday party for Price's twin 8-year-olds.
KELLY: Do we know exactly what happened on Saturday? What details are out there?
ELDER-CONNORS: So after getting back from bowling, the three young men were walking down a residential street, and two of them were wearing keffiyehs. That's a traditional Palestinian scarf. And the three were speaking a mix of English and Arabic. Police say while they were walking, they were allegedly confronted by suspect Jason Eaton. The victims later told police that, without saying a word, Eaton pulled out a gun and fired at least four rounds, hitting all three of the young men. Eaton was arrested on Sunday as law enforcement officials were canvassing the area. When they searched his home, they found a pistol that fired the same caliber bullets, and they also found the same brand of bullets that had been - as the ones that had been used in the shooting.
KELLY: And how are they doing, the victims?
ELDER-CONNORS: Well, all three are hospitalized in the ICU still. One's in serious condition. Awartani appears to have the most serious injury. His mother told NPR that the bullet is lodged in his spine and that he can't move his legs and that it's unlikely he'll be able to walk again.
KELLY: OK. You mentioned the suspect has been charged. It's three counts of attempted murder. He has not been charged with hate crimes. But just briefly, Liam, that is still on the table?
ELDER-CONNORS: Yeah. The county prosecutor says there's not enough evidence for a hate crime enhancement but has called it a, quote, "hateful act" and said the investigation will continue. Federal officials are also investigating possible hate crimes. And the U.S. attorney said that his office will follow the facts where they lead.
KELLY: That is Vermont Public's Liam Elder-Connors, thanks for your reporting.
ELDER-CONNORS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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