Last week, a gunman ambushed and wounded three college students of Palestinian descent as they walked to a Thanksgiving dinner celebration in Burlington, Vermont.
John Murad, chief of the Burlington Police Department, called the attack a “senseless and horrific” crime on a 27 November press conference.
Now, the suspected gunman – 48-year-old Jason Eaton – is in custody and federal officials investigate whether the shooting was a hate crime, while the three students are receiving treatment at a nearby hospital and their families are looking for answers.
Here’s what we know about the attack:
A gunman attacked three students of Palestinian descent as they walked to Thanksgiving dinner
Twenty-year-old college students Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali and Kenan Abdulhamid walked to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Mr Awartani’s grandmother on 25 November.
As the three victims walked to Mr Awartani’s grandmother’s house, police said a white male gunman fired at least four rounds “without speaking” before fleeing on foot.
All three victims were of Palestinian descent, and two of them were wearing a keffiyeh at the time of the attack, police said in a statement. The three students spoke to each other in English and Arabic during the unprovoked attack, Mr Murad said at the press conference.
The gunman hit two of the students in the body and a third in the lower extremities, police said in a statement. All three victims were treated in the intensive care unit of a nearby hospital, according to Mr Awartani’s uncle Rich Price.
The families of the victims spoke
Two of the victims are stable, while the third “suffered more serious injuries,” police said. Mr Murad told reporters that officers only spoke to two of the students after the attack, while the third received medical treatment.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said Mr Awartani was the most injured of the three men, on Monday.
A source close to Mr Awartani’s mother – Elisabeth Price, who lives in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – said CNN the gunman hit him in the back, causing him to be unable to move. Doctors are working to increase blood flow to Mr Awartani’s spine, the source said on Monday.
Mr Price told reporters he had been with the three victims “almost constantly” since the attack.
“I was amazed at their resilience, their good humor in dealing with these difficult times,” Mr Price said on Monday.
Mr Awartani is a student at Brown University in nearby Providence, Rhode Island, according to a statement from Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Meanwhile, Mr Abdalhamid is a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Mr Ahmad is a student at Trinity College in Connecticut.
The parents of the victims released a joint statement by the Institute of Middle East Understanding calling on the police to treat the gunman’s actions as a hate crime and asking the public to respect their privacy as they watch over their children.
“We must ensure that our children are protected, and that this terrible crime never happens again,” the statement read.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the ATF are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime.
“Even as we speak, the ATF and FBI are investigating the horrific shooting of three men of Palestinian descent in Vermont. That investigation, including whether this was a hate crime, is ongoing,” said US Attorney General Merrick Garland on 27 November.
The suspect pleaded not guilty while the police investigated the possible motive for the hate crime
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents arrested Mr Eaton while canvassing the day after the shooting.
Authorities first identified Mr Eaton when they knocked on the door of his apartment and he walked out of the unit with his hands up on 26 November, Mr Murad said.
“The agents were greeted by a man who came out of the hall outside the door towards them with his palms raised to his waist,” Mr Murad said. “He said something to the effect of: ‘I’ve been waiting for you.'”
Mr Eaton told the officers that he had a gun in his apartment and asked for a lawyer, Mr Murad.
He pleaded guilty to all three counts of attempted murder in the second degree, his lawyers said at his arraignment on 27 November. The charges carry the potential of a life sentence. Mr Eaton is being held at the Northwest State Correctional Facility without bail at this time, the judge said at his arraignment on Monday.
Investigators believe Mr Eaton moved to Vermont in the summer after living in or around Syracuse, New York, Mr Murad said. Mary Reed, Mr Eaton’s mother, spoke The Everyday Beast he was “shocked” by the situation.
“Jason had a lot of struggles in his life but he was a kind and loving person,” Ms Reed told the outlet on Monday.
A spokesperson for the Chittenden County Public Defender’s Office declined to comment on the case when contacted by The Independent.