More than $980K raised for Palestinian student paralyzed after being shot in Vermont

More than $980,000 has been raised for the recovery of one of the three college students of Palestinian descent who were shot in Vermont last month, which left him paralyzed from the chest down after a bullet was lodged in his spine, his family said.

Hisham Awartani, a 20-year-old student at Brown University, was walking with his childhood friends near the University of Vermont campus in Burlington on Nov. 25 when "all three were shot in an unprovoked attack," Awartani's family said on a GoFundMe page. All three were seriously injured and Awartani is currently paralyzed from the chest down.

"Hisham's first thoughts were for his friends, then for his parents who were thousands of miles away. He has demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience, and fortitude - even a sense of humor - even as the reality of his paralysis sets in," the fundraising page, which was set up on Saturday, states.

The shooting came amid a surge of hate crimes across the United States, including increased threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities, since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in early October. While officials in Burlington, Vermont, have yet to label the shooting a hate crime, the attack drew widespread condemnation from authorities and advocacy groups.

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Awartani, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, and Kinnan Abdalhamid were visiting Awartani's relatives in Burlington for the Thanksgiving break. The three friends were walking to the house of Awartani's grandmother for dinner when they were shot by a white man, his family said.

Awartani's family believes that the three men, who were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves, and speaking in a mix of English and Arabic at the time of the attack, were targeted. The suspected gunman had fired four shots at them.

While Awartani's injuries are the worst of the three, his uncle Rich Price told USA TODAY that he was concerned for his friends. Ahmad and Abdalhamid have since been released from the hospital, CNN reported.

"In a cruelly ironic twist, Hisham's parents had recommended he not return home over winter break, suggesting he would be safer in the US with his grandmother," the fundraising page states. "Burlington is a second home to Hisham, who has spent summers and happy holidays with his family there. It breaks our hearts that these young men did not find safety in his home away from home."

Authorities arrested Jason J. Eaton, 48, on Nov. 26 at his Burlington apartment, where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them.

Eaton pleaded not guilty to three attempted second-degree murder charges during a court appearance the following day and is currently being held without bail as authorities investigate whether the shooting was a hate crime.

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Who were the three victims?

The three 20-year-olds are childhood friends who graduated from a private Quaker school in the West Bank. They now are students at different universities in the United States and have been described as dedicated students.

Awartani goes to Brown University in Rhode Island, Abdalhamid attends Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Aliahmad is a student at Connecticut's Trinity College.

Awartani is a Palestinian-Irish-American who grew up in the West Bank, according to his family. He took annual visits to his grandmother's home in Burlington on summer vacations from school.

Awartani, who speaks seven languages, is pursuing a dual degree in math and archaeology at Brown University, where he is also a teaching assistant, the fundraising page said. He told his college professors that he is determined to start the next semester "on time," according to the fundraiser.

"We, his family, believe that Hisham will change the world," the fundraising page states. "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."

Contributing: Cybele Mayes-Osterman, USA TODAY; April Barton, Burlington Free Press; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GoFundMe for Palestinian student shot in Vermont raises over $980,000