One of the college students of Palestinian descent shot in Vermont last weekend has been left paralysed from the chest down, his family has said.
Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, all age 20 and attending colleges in the eastern US, were visiting Awartani’s family in Burlington during the Thanksgiving break. The three men, who all grew up in the West Bank, were out for a walk on 25 November when a man approached them and shot them without saying a word, according to police.
The young men were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, authorities said. A suspect has been arrested in the case and charged with three counts of attempted murder, while prosecutors are investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.
Mr Arwatani’s parents Elizabeth Price and Ali Awartani flew in Wednesday from the war-torn West Bank just as their son underwent surgery, The Associated Press reported. The family revealed in the description of a fundraiser to cover hospital bills that one of the bullets that struck Mr Arwatani, a student at Brown University, lodged in his spine and left him paralysed from the chest down.
“When my nephew came to this country to pursue his studies and when he came to stay with me for Thanksgiving in Burlington, Vermont, it never occurred to me that he may be victim to this type of violence,” Mr Awartani’s uncle Rich Price also told the AP. “And so I feel a sense of shame, I feel a sense of outrage, and it’s been a really difficult awakening to the fact that even here — even in this country, even in this town — that many of the risks that exist for my nephew and his friends in Palestine exist for them here.”
The bullet is unlikely to be removed. Mr Price said doctors treating his nephew have not reached a consensus on a long-term prognosis.
A GoFundMe page created by family members has raised more than $497,000 as of Saturday evening. The family said the funds will be used to aid Mr Arwatani in the complex recovery and rehabilitation process that lies ahead.
“We, his family, believe that Hisham will change the world,” the description of the page read. “He’ll change the world through his spirit, his mind and his compassion for those much more vulnerable than himself, especially the thousands of dead in Gaza and many more struggling to survive the devastating humanitarian crisis unfolding there.”
Mr Arwatani and her parents had agreed it would be safer for Hisham to stay in the United States instead of coming home for the holidays after the Israel-Hamas war erupted in early October. Mr Price said one of the most difficult things following his nephew’s attack was reckoning with the fact that the dangers Palestinians are facing in Gaza and the West Bank extended to the US, where Mr Arwatani and his friends once felt safe.
“He was concerned for his friends, who were with him, their well-being and recovery. And he was also deeply concerned that so much attention was being brought to him and he’s thinking about the thousands of people that are dead,” Mr Price said. “There are dozens of Hishams that are in the list of the dead in Gaza, and he’s saying, ‘I’m the Hisham that you know. What about the Hishams you don’t know?’”
The shooting last weekend came as threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities have increased across the US in the weeks since the war began.
The suspected gunman, 48-year-old Jason J Eaton, was arrested on 26 November at his apartment, where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them.
Mr Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder and is currently being held without bail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.