The suspect in the shooting deaths of three Palestinian students in Vermont over the weekend pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted second-degree murder Monday and was ordered by a judge to be held without bail.
The suspect, Jason J. Eaton, 48, appeared for arraignment in Chittenden County Criminal Court in Burlington via a remote video feed from the county jail, where he has been held since his arrest Sunday.
Police say Eaton used a handgun to shoot the three victims in the street near the University of Vermont in Burlington Saturday night and then fled.
The attack is also being investigated as a suspected hate crime. At the time of the attack, two of the men were wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional black-and-white checkered headscarf commonly worn in the Middle East, police said.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit in the three-minute hearing, Eaton replied “yes, sir” when asked by the judge if he understood the charges against him.
Burlington police and the mayor’s office will hold a press conference later Monday to discuss the incident and the arrest.
Also Read: Three Palestinian Students Shot In Vermont In Suspected Hate Crime
The shootings came amid a rise in anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic incidents reported in the United States since a bloody conflict broke out between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7.
All of the Vermont victims are in their 20s. two are U.S. citizens and the third is a legal U.S. resident, police said.
The victims were reported to be speaking Arabic when they were attacked, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, a pro-Palestine nonprofit. He also said that the assailant opened fire on the three men after he started shouting and harassing them. Police say he fired four times without saying a word.
“At this charged time, no one can look at this incident and not suspect it may have been a hate crime,” Burlington Police Chief John Murad said in a statement earlier.
“That there is any indication that this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling and that possibility is being made a priority” by police, Mayor Miro Weinberger said.
Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdel Hamid and Tahseen Ahmed, three students of Palestinian origin who were shot near the University of Vermont in Burlington on November 25, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
“Elevated Global Threat Environment”
The U.S. Department of Justice is assisting local authorities in the investigation and trying to determine whether it is a hate crime, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday.
“No person and no community in this country should have to live in fear of deadly violence,” Garland said before a separate meeting in the office of the Southern District of New York.
Garland cited the continued “elevated global threat environment” and “a sharp increase in the volume and frequency of threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across our country since October 7” for understandable fear in communities across the country.
Read: Six-year-old Palestinian boy killed in terrifying Illinois hate attack
The families of the victims issued a joint statement on Sunday calling on authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, as did the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a US-based advocacy group.
“The rise of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented and this is another example of that hatred turning violent,” said ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub.
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 Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker high school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the families said.
Two of the students were visiting the third student’s family home in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Police said all three remained under medical care Sunday, two with gunshot wounds to the torso and one with a gunshot wound to the lower extremities. “Two are stable, while one is much more seriously injured,” police said.
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