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Palestinian student wounded in Vermont shooting breaks silence in message to classmates

Awartani Family via Reuters

(BURLINGTON, Vt.) — One of the three students of Palestinian descent shot during an attack in Vermont spoke out in a text message read to his Brown University classmates during a vigil for him that turned raucous at the Ivy League campus, saying, “I am but one casualty in this much wider conflict.”

Hisham Awartani, a 20-year-old junior at Brown University, who was the most seriously injured victim in Saturday’s shooting in Burlington, Vermont, issued a text message that was read on his behalf at the Monday night vigil held for him at the Providence, Rhode Island, school campus.

“It’s important to recognize that this is part of a larger story. This hideous crime did not happen in a vacuum,” Awartani, a U.S. citizen who was raised in the West Bank, wrote in the text message. “As much as I appreciate every single one of you here today, I am one casualty in this much wider conflict.”

The message was read at the vigil by a Brown University professor of Palestinian studies, the Providence Journal newspaper reported.

Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price, told ABC News on Monday that her son, who is studying mathematics and archaeology, remains hospitalized with a bullet lodged in his spine, and that doctors are unsure if he will be able to walk again.

“Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services that saved my life here would likely have been withheld by the Israeli army. The soldier who shot me would go home and never be convicted,” Awartani wrote in the message. “I understand that the pain is so much more real and immediate because many of you know me, but any attack like this is horrific, be it here or in Palestine.”

Awartani’s message added, “This is why when you say your wishes and light your candles today, your mind should not just be focused on me as an individual, but rather as a proud member of the people being oppressed.”

The shooting occurred Saturday evening near the Burlington home of Awartani’s relative, where he and two of his best friends — Tahseen Ahmed, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut, and Kinnan Abdalhamid, a pre-med student at Haverford College in Connecticut — were visiting for the Thanksgiving break, their families said.

The suspect, 48-year-old Jason James Eaton of Burlington, a former Boy Scout assistant scoutmaster, was arrested on Sunday and charged with three counts of second-degree attempted murder. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf by his attorney.

A motive for the shooting remains under investigation and officials said they are looking at the possibility of it being a hate crime.

The three students were shot while walking in the neighborhood near the University of Vermont. The students were speaking Arabic and two were wearing kaffiyehs, or traditional Palestinian headscarves, when they were attacked, according to police.

The shooting came amid a rise in Islamophobic and antisemitic hate incidents and attacks across the county since Hamas terrorists launched a deadly surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, and Israeli forces retaliated with a bombing campaign and ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

During Monday night’s vigil, an address by Brown University President Christina Paxson was interrupted by students yelling demands that the university divest from Israel.

“Although we don’t know the details yet, it is horrific that the mere fact that Hisham and his friends were simply being who they are, proud Palestinians, wearing kaffiyehs, speaking in Arabic, that may be what prompted the shooting. Sadly, we can’t control what happens around the world and across the country. We’re powerless to do everything we’d like to do. But there’s so much that we are doing and continue to do,” Paxson said before being drowned out by chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

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