Suspect arraigned in shooting of three Palestinian American students in Vermont
Garland cited the ongoing "elevated global threat environment" and the "sharp increase in the volume and frequency of threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across our country since October 7" for the understandable fear in communities across the country. Families of the victims issued a joint statement on Sunday urging authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, as did the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a U.S.-based advocacy group.
The suspect in the shooting in Vermont of three college students of Palestinian descent over the weekend pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted second-degree murder on Monday and was ordered by a judge to be held without bond.
The suspect, Jason J. Eaton, 48, appeared at an arraignment at the Chittenden County Criminal Court in Burlington via a remote video feed from the county jail, where he has been held since his arrest on Sunday. Police say Eaton used a pistol to shoot the three victims on the street near the University of Vermont in Burlington on Saturday evening and then ran away.
The attack is also under investigation as a suspected hate-motivated crime. At the time of the attack, two of the men were wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional black-and-white checkered scarf commonly worn in Middle East, police said. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit at the three-minute hearing, Eaton responded "yes, sir" when asked by the judge if he understood the charges against him.
Burlington police and the mayor's office will hold a news conference later on Monday to discuss the incident and arrest. The shooting came amid a rise in anti-Islamic and antisemitic incidents reported around the United States since a bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas erupted on Oct. 7.
All of the Vermont victims are 20 years old; two are U.S. citizens and the third is a legal U.S. resident, police said. The victims were reported to have been speaking Arabic when attacked, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, a nonprofit pro-Palestinian advocacy organization. It also said the assailant opened fire on the three men after he began to shout at and harass them. Police say he fired four shots without saying a word.
"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 in a statement earlier. "That there is an indication that this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling, and this possibility is being prioritized" by police, Mayor Miro Weinberger said.
'ELEVATED GLOBAL THREAT ENVIRONMENT' The U.S. Department of Justice is assisting local authorities in the investigation and trying to determine if it was a hate crime, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Monday.
"No person and no community in this country should have to live in fear of lethal violence," Garland said ahead of a separate meeting at the department's Southern District of New York office. Garland cited the ongoing "elevated global threat environment" and the "sharp increase in the volume and frequency of threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across our country since October 7" for the understandable fear in communities across the country.
Families of the victims issued a joint statement on Sunday urging authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, as did the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a U.S.-based advocacy group. "The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent," ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said.
The families identified the victims as Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdel Hamid, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ahmed, who attends Trinity College in Connecticut. All three are graduates of the Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker secondary school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the families said. Two of the students were visiting the home of the third student's family in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Police said all three remained under medical care on Sunday, two with gunshot wounds in their torsos and one shot in the lower extremities. "Two are stable, while one has sustained much more serious injuries," police said.
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