Palestinian-American college student may never walk again after US shooting

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Twenty-year-old Palestinian-American college student Hisham Awartani may never walk again after being shot along with two other Palestinian students in the United States over the weekend in a suspect hate crime, his family told CNN in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price, revealed to CNN that the bullet became lodged in his spine causing an “incomplete spinal injury,” which means that he can feel his legs, but cannot move them. She says he is beginning to be become aware of the “very long road he has in front of him.”

The tragedy unfolded as Awartani, along with two long-time friends from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, were strolling through Burlington, Vermont, Price told CNN.

Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali, and Kenan Abdulhamid were shot on their way to a family dinner in Vermont, US on Sunday Nov. 26, 2023. (X)
Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali, and Kenan Abdulhamid were shot on their way to a family dinner in Vermont, US on Sunday Nov. 26, 2023. (X)



As Awartani grapples with the harsh reality that he may never walk again, Price, who lives in Amman, Jordan is preparing to travel to the Vermont to be by her son’s side.

“The last I knew, he was still in the ICU, immobilized, to try and get the swelling down on his back,” Price stated.

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Alongside the spinal injury, Awartani suffered a broken collarbone, a fractured thumb and difficulty regulating body temperature due to the severity of the spinal injury, according to CNN. He faces an extensive recovery period, expected to include one to four weeks in spinal trauma care, followed by months of physical therapy.

King Abdullah II of Jordan has offered support, with Price noting to CNN, “The King’s personal physician has reached out to me to convey his majesty’s concern for Hisham and the other boys, and is hoping to send a specialist to meet Hisham and identify what kind of support Hisham needs.”

Despite the daunting challenges ahead, Price remains optimistic about her son’s resilience, stating in her interview, “He’s just a very resilient young man, and he’s been trying to keep everyone’s spirits up by joking and just trying to be as calm as possible. We are determined to work with him and support him and get the best possible care.”


Arrest made in Vermont shooting, Motive remains unclear

The suspect in the shooting, 48-year-old Jason J. Eaton, was apprehended on Sunday and is now facing three counts of attempted murder charges.

Jason J. Eaton, 48, a suspect who was arrested in the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, appears at his court arraignment from the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, Vermont, U.S. November 27, 2023 in a still image from Webex video. Vermont Judiciary/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
Jason J. Eaton, 48, a suspect who was arrested in the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, appears at his court arraignment from the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, Vermont, U.S. November 27, 2023 in a still image from Webex video. Vermont Judiciary/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY



Eaton made his first court appearance on Monday at the Chittenden County Criminal Court in Burlington, pleading not guilty to the charges via a remote video feed from the county jail.

While the motive behind the attack remains undetermined, authorities are exploring the possibility of a hate crime.

Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad disclosed to CNN that Eaton used a pistol to shoot the three students as they conversed in Arabic and English near the University of Vermont. Two of the victims were wearing keffiyeh, a traditional black-and-white checkered headscarf commonly worn in the Middle East.

The shooting, occurring against a backdrop of rising anti-Islamic and antisemitic incidents since the conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted, has raised concerns.

Police and prosecutors said Monday that they have yet to uncover sufficient evidence to establish Eaton’s motive.

“This absolutely was a hateful act,” Murad told CNN on Monday. “But whether or not we can cross the legal threshold in order to determine that it is a hate crime is a different matter.”

US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Monday that the Department of Justice is assisting local authorities in the investigation. Garland emphasized the elevated global threat environment and the increased frequency of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities since October 7.


Victims identified as investigation continues

The two other victims have been identified by CNN as Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut, both 20 years old.

Kinnan Abdalhamid (left) and Tahseen Ali Ahmad have been identified by family representatives as victims of the shooting. (Institute for Middle East Understanding)
Kinnan Abdalhamid (left) and Tahseen Ali Ahmad have been identified by family representatives as victims of the shooting. (Institute for Middle East Understanding)



In addition to Awartani’s life-altering spinal injury, the two young men sustained gunshot wounds to the upper torso and lower extremities, leading to hospitalization in the ICU, CNN said citing Burlington police.

A source close to the family told CNN that one of the victims was released from the hospital on Monday.

The students, visiting Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday and staying with Awartani’s uncle, were attacked shortly after attending a birthday party for the uncle’s eight-year-old twin sons.

Rich Price, Awartani’s uncle, recalled the shocking incident to CNN said, “They were just walking, talking amongst themselves. They were wearing their keffiyehs, which are traditional Palestinian scarves, and this gentleman stepped out of the dark, pulled out a handgun and fired four times.”

Awartani told his mother that when the shooting began, he “suddenly found himself on the ground.” One of his friends screaming in pain after sustaining a gunshot to the chest, she told CNN.

First responders wheel a victim to an ambulance after a gunman shot and wounded three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont, U.S. November 25, 2023 in a still image from video. (Courtesy Wayne Savage via Reuters)
First responders wheel a victim to an ambulance after a gunman shot and wounded three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont, U.S. November 25, 2023 in a still image from video. (Courtesy Wayne Savage via Reuters)



The shooter hovered over them for a short time and Awartani thought he would “continue to shoot them and kill them,” the mother told CNN. Once the shooter fled, Awartani was able to call 911.

Awartani’s uncle explained to CNN that the three young men grew up in Ramallah before traveling to the US to attend college. “They grew up under military occupation and who would imagine that they would come to a place like this to celebrate Thanksgiving and this is when their lives would be at risk,” Rich Price stated.



While investigators work to determine Eaton’s motive, authorities found a pistol and ammunition in his apartment, connected to bullet casings found at the scene, CNN reported.

A trove of electronic devices seized from Eaton’s apartment may provide insight, with police planning to collaborate with the FBI for analysis, Murad told CNN Monday night.

Federal prosecutors in Vermont are also investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, CNN said.

As the community grapples with the aftermath of the crime, the victims’ families and civil rights groups continue to advocate for justice and accountability.

“We believe a full investigation is likely to show our sons were targeted and violently attacked simply for being Palestinian,” the families’ statement said. “Our children, Palestinian children, like everyone else, deserve to feel safe.”

Read more:

Three Palestinian men shot, injured in apparent hate crime in US’s Vermont

US suspect in shooting of three Palestinian college students pleads not guilty

Biden says he was ‘horrified’ by shooting of US-Palestinian students

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