Three Palestinian college students, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, were brutally shot in Vermont, an incident that has sent ripples through their families and the broader community.
In a poignant statement, their families decried media narratives that seemed to shift the responsibility of the crime on the assailant's mental health, instead of focusing on the act itself.
They called for a thorough investigation to ensure justice is served, reflecting a growing concern among victims' families that attributing violent acts to mental health issues may lead to a lessened perception of the perpetrator's culpability.
Unprovoked attack and its aftermath
One of the victims, Hisham Awartani, may never be able to move his legs again after a bullet lodged in his spine, as per his family's account of the attack. The suspect, 48-year-old Jason J Eaton, was arrested and charged with three counts of attempted murder.
He pleaded not guilty. The victims' families and several civil rights groups have urged investigators to treat the case as a hate crime, particularly as it follows a reported increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias incidents in the United States.
Victims' recovery and community reaction
The three students are currently treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center, with one facing a long recovery due to a spinal injury.
The incident has raised alarm bells as the US grapples with a surge in Islamophobia and antisemitism since the start of the Israel-Gaza war. Hisham Awartani, the most critically injured, may never walk again, his family fears. His road to recovery will be long, they acknowledge.
Brown University rocked by tensions
Brown University, where Hisham Awartani studies, has been rocked by tensions since the attack. At a vigil held for Awartani, who faces a long recovery from a spinal injury, a protest broke out and Brown President Christina Paxson was forced offstage.
The shooting Saturday night has revealed a schism between students who support Israel and those who oppose its presence in the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian territories.