The three men were visiting a relative’s home in Burlington, Vt., for the Thanksgiving holiday when they were shot on Nov. 25
Hisham Awartani, one of three Palestinian college students who was shot while walking in Vermont last month, has been left paralyzed after a bullet became lodged in his spine, his family says.
Awartani and two of his longtime friends, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed, were visiting one of the men’s relatives at a home in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday when a gunman confronted them “without speaking” and fired at least four shots at the group, local police previously said.
At a press conference following the shooting, Burlington police said that the men, all of whom are 20 years old, were speaking a mixture of English and Arabic at the time of the attack. Two of three men were also wearing black and white Palestinian scarves known as keffiyehs.
Police said Abdalhamid and Ahmed were expected to recover after being wounded by the bullets while Awartani suffered a serious spinal injury.
Now, Awartani’s family has created a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the costs associated with his recovery.
“Hisham's first thoughts were for his friends, then for his parents who were thousands of miles away,” his loved ones wrote on the fundraiser. “He has demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and fortitude - even a sense of humor - even as the reality of his paralysis sets in."
In a Wednesday update, the family wrote on the GoFundMe page that Awartani was released from the hospital and is now on his way to his spinal injury rehabilitation center.
“To everyone who has offered their love and support to Hisham, we are humbled and overwhelmed by your care and generosity,” the statement said.
“His family and friends remain in awe of his calm determination, strength and steadiness,” it continued. “We’ve been told it may be some time before we understand what the long-term prognosis is.”
According to a previous statement from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, Awartani was a student at Brown University at the time of the shooting, while Abdalhamid and Ahmed were attending Haverford College and Trinity University, respectively.
The GoFundMe page states that Awartani and his friends are all Palestinians who grew up together and attended the same Quaker school in the West Bank.
“Hisham is a kind, gentle, brilliant young man with enormous potential and his whole life ahead of him,” his loved ones wrote on the fundraiser.
“Hisham speaks seven languages, is a teacher assistant at Brown and is so dedicated to his studies that he has told his college professors he is determined to start the next semester ‘on time,’” they added. “Let's be part of making that a reality for him!”
The suspect, Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested on Nov. 26 after members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who were canvassing the Burlington area knocked on his front door, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad previously said at a press conference.
“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,” police said at the time, ABC News reported.
Chittenden County State Attorney Sarah George said at the press conference that Eaton has been charged with three counts of attempted murder. According to the Associated Press, Eaton has pleaded not guilty. It’s unclear if he has retained an attorney to speak on his behalf.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and other authorities are investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.
“The United States Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division will assess the evidence generated to determine whether a federal crime may have been committed,” Nikolas P. Kerest, United States Attorney for the District of Vermont, said in a statement shared after the shooting.
"This absolutely was a hateful act," Murad told CNN on Nov. 27. "But whether or not we can cross the legal threshold in order to determine that it is a hate crime is a different matter."
The victims' families have urged authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, highlighting rising tensions throughout the U.S. and the Middle East since a war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas began on Oct. 7.
“We need to ensure that our children are protected, and this heinous crime is not repeated,” they said in a joint statement shared by the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) on X (formerly Twitter) last month.
“No family should ever have to endure this pain and agony," the statement read, in part. "Our children are dedicated students who deserve to be able to focus on their studies and building their futures.”
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