But days later, they are still searching for a motive and say there is not yet enough evidence to call it a hate crime.
Kinnan Abdalhamid (left), Hisham Awartani (right) and the other student were spending Thanksgiving in Burlington
In a shocking incident in a quiet Burlington neighborhood on Saturday evening, Jason Eaton allegedly approached three young men with a handgun, firing at least four shots at close range, as per police reports. The victims, Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Aliahmad, and Kinnan Abdalhamid, survived the attack, with relatives suggesting it was a deliberate hate crime amid heightened tensions over the Israel-Gaza war.
The families of the men stated on Tuesday, “We have no doubt that our sons were targeted simply for being Palestinian.” Elizabeth Price, Mr. Awartani’s mother, who believes the attack was a hate crime, stated, “This man did not accept people who were different from him. And he wanted to destroy that.”
While evidence links Eaton to the shooting, a clear motive remains elusive. Eaton faces three counts of attempted second-degree murder, pleading not guilty. Police Chief Jon Murad emphasized at a news conference, “We still do not know as much as we want to know,” cautioning against premature conclusions.
If proven guilty, Eaton could face 20 years to life, with potential federal charges after an FBI investigation. However, establishing a hate crime requires evidence of bias, presenting a challenge in this case. Little is known about Eaton, who recently moved to Burlington. The shooting occurred outside his residence, leaving the community shaken and questioning its safety.
Eaton’s silence during the attack and inconclusive online posts add complexity. His recent job loss, sparse social media clues, and writings touching on conspiracies raise questions. However, unlike typical mass shooters, his public posts lack overt signs of hatred or clear ideological motivation.
Relatives of the three Palestinian men said the attack was a “crime fuelled by hate”
Comparatively, recent hate crime cases elsewhere, like Plainfield, Illinois, swiftly labeled an attack as such. The need for more evidence before a hate crime charge was acknowledged by Sarah George, the county’s top prosecutor. Mr. Awartani’s uncle, Rich Price, expressed confidence in the legal system but emphasized the evident targeting based on appearance, language, and dress.
The incident sheds light on rising anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia amid the Israel-Gaza war. Family members of the victims reject any justification for this “heinous and hate-filled crime,” highlighting the lasting trauma inflicted on their children.