A 48-year-old man was arrested Sunday in the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent a day earlier in Burlington, Vt., according to city police.
The suspect, Jason J. Eaton, was detained Sunday afternoon by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who were canvassing the area where the three 20-year-olds were shot, Burlington police said in a statement.
The shooting, which Burlington Chief of Police Jon Murad said could be a “hate-motivated crime,” occurred in front of the Prospect Street apartment building where Eaton lives, and a search warrant was executed at his home by Burlington police detectives Sunday night. Evidence collected at the apartment — along with other information — gave “investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that Mr. Eaton perpetrated the shooting,” the department said.
Eaton is expected to be arraigned Monday, the department said.
Burlington police said earlier Sunday that the three men were receiving medical care. Two were in stable condition, while a third had sustained “much more serious injuries,” the department said in a statement.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” Murad said. “And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven.”
The three men had been visiting the home of one victim’s relatives for the Thanksgiving holiday, police said. All three were walking on Prospect, near the University of Vermont, at around 6:30 p.m. when a white man with a handgun confronted them, firing at least four rounds from a pistol and hitting all three, according to the department’s statement.
Two of the men were wearing keffiyehs at the time of the shooting, the statement said.
“At this time, there is no additional information to suggest the suspect’s motive, such as statements or remarks by the suspect,” the Burlington Police Department said in a statement made before the announcement of Sunday’s arrest.
The White House said President Biden had been briefed on the shooting and would continue to receive updates as law enforcement officials gathered more information, according to a pool report.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said indications that the shooting “could have been motivated by hate is chilling.”
A joint statement from the families of the victims, released by the nonprofit Institute for Middle East Understanding, identified the men as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad.
“As parents, we are devastated by the horrific news that our children were targeted and shot in Burlington, VT,” the statement said. “We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice. We need to ensure that our children are protected, and this heinous crime is not repeated.”
The families also asked that no one donate to fundraisers related to the incident “unless specifically organized by our families.”
Ramallah Friends School, a secondary school, identified the three men as graduates who are now studying at Brown University, Haverford College and Trinity College.
Abed A. Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called on authorities to “investigate this as a hate crime.”
“We know law enforcement has to go through their own processes and make their own determination, but ... in our opinion, we strongly do believe that the identity of the victims played a role in them being targeted.”
Ayoub said that he’d spoken with family members of each of the victims, who were “doing what millions of other students were doing this weekend: getting away for the holiday and reconnecting with friends and family.”
“They were committed to excelling in school,” Ayoub said.“They are kind and humble individuals who are willing to help others and easy to get along with.” He reiterated the serious condition of one of the three, as per family members, saying it was “touch and go.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who carried out the shooting.
“Due to the unprecedented spike in anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate and violence we have witnessed in recent weeks, local, state and national law enforcement authorities must investigate a possible bias motive for the shooting of these three young men,” its executive director Nihad Awad said in a statement.
In recent weeks, CAIR has voiced alarm over a number of incidents, including the stabbing death of a 6-year-old Muslim boy, Wadea Al-Fayoume, in Illinois; the arrest of a Michigan man who police say threatened to “hunt Palestinians”; and a Palestinian American family reporting a bullet being fired into their Colorado home.
The group said earlier this month that it had seen a massive increase in requests for help and reports of bias, with more than 1,200 received in the four weeks after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
Amid escalating tensions and a rising death toll in the Israel-Hamas war, groups tracking bias against both Arab and Jewish Americans have reported a surge in hateful incidents in the United States. As of Sunday, a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track as the militant group freed more hostages.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called the attack in Burlington “shocking and deeply upsetting.”
“Hate has no place here, or anywhere,” Sanders said in a statement. “I look forward to a full investigation. My thoughts are with them and their families.”
Murad, Weinberger and others planned to hold a news conference Monday morning.
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