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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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BeyondMU: Man Charged After Shooting Three College Students of Palestinian Descent

Matthew+Schaffer
The Parthenon
Matthew Schaffer

A man has been charged with attempted murder after shooting three college students of Palestinian descent on Saturday, Nov. 25, in Burlington, Vermont, while visiting a relative’s home on Thanksgiving break.

Jason J. Eaton, 48, pleaded not guilty on Monday after being apprehended and detained without bond the day prior. While the local police have yet to identify a motive for the shootings, investigators suspect that the shooting was a hate crime.

According to police reports, the three undergraduate students, Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ahmed and Kinnan Abdalhamid, all aged 20, were confronted by Easton a block away from Awartani’s grandmother’s home, near the University of Vermont, after attending Awartani’s twin cousin’s eighth birthday party at a local bowling alley.

Around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Eaton wordlessly opened fire on the three students with a pistol just outside of his apartment and fled the scene, according to the police. The shots hit two victims in the torso and the third in the lower extremities.

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One victim has since been released from the hospital, while the other two remain in care, with one student suffering a spinal injury that is expected to require long-term care. The victim who was discharged from the hospital has remained anonymous over safety concerns.

The three students were reportedly speaking in English and Arabic and wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Middle Eastern head scarf that has been used as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine since the Israel-Hamas war broke out. The students were all attending universities outside of Burlington, with two of them being U.S. citizens and the other being a legal resident.

Easton’s actions are being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont to determine possible federal charges that could be brought against him. The FBI Albany field office has also launched an investigation into the attack.

In a statement regarding the attacks, President Joe Biden said the students “were simply spending Thanksgiving gathered with family and loved ones” and that he and first lady Jill Biden were “horrified” by the attack.

The students’ families have gathered to urge law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation into the motives of the shooting, specifically calling for the attack to be treated as a hate crime.

“We need to ensure that our children are protected, and this heinous crime is not repeated,” the parents said. “Our children are dedicated students who deserve to be able to focus on their studies and building their futures.”

According to the victims’ families, Awartani is a student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Abdalhamid is a student at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and Ahmed is a student at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

All three students grew up living in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, attending Ramallah Friends School with each other since the first grade, before attending college in the U.S.

All three of the students’ respective colleges have released statements regarding the incident, with Brown University President Christina Paxson stating, “I know that his heinous and despicable act of violence–this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world–will leave many in our community deeply shaken.”

Trinity College’s president and vice president released a joint statement stating they are “heartbroken” about Ahmed’s condition and sending staff from the college’s Office of Student and Community Life to Vermont to provide support in his recovery.

Haverford’s president and dean released a joint statement regarding the shooting and the possible motive, stating, “Kinnan and his friends are all Palestinian students studying at U.S. colleges and universities.” “We await word on whether it will be pursued as a hate crime.”

Awartani is studying mathematics and archeology, Abdalhamid is a pre-med student and Ahmed is studying mathematics and IT at their respective institutions.

This attack marks the most recent incident as tensions continue to rise over the Israel-Hamas war as students and protesters nationwide have banded together to show their support for both sides. Meanwhile, antisemitism and islamophobia have been on the rise despite Israel and Hamas announcing an extension of a truce on Friday, Nov. 24, as the two sides exchanged civilian hostages.

Israel has vowed to resume the war with the goal of “destroying Hamas” following the militant organization’s attack on Israeli soil on Oct. 7 despite ongoing pleas from the international community for Israel to spare Palestinian civilians when the war resumes.

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About the Contributor
Matthew Schaffer, Managing Editor
Matthew Schaffer is a senior at Marshall University pursuing a B.A. in multimedia journalism with a minor in political science. He follows national politics and foreign affairs. He has previously worked as a reporter for both The Parthenon and WMUL. After graduating, he plans to pursue a political and investigative journalism career. In the meantime, he is the self-proclaimed "Hoops Fever Champion" and is, in fact, accepting challengers.
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