Jason J Eaton, 48, was arrested near where the students were shot, the Burlington police announced. According to NBC news, the search of his apartment “gave investigators and prosecutors probable cause to believe that (he) perpetrated the shooting.”
He appeared in court on Monday and pleaded not guilty to three counts of second degree murder and is being held without bail.
The attorney general, Merrick Garland, said the federal authorities are investigating whether the shooting of the three Palestinians was a hate crime.
Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said: “In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime," he said.”
"And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven."
“The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now. But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
The suspect attacked the three college students, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmad as they were visiting relatives for a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday night. Police said they were speaking in English and Arabic, and two of them were wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian scarf.
All three of the victims are recovering from their injuries in an intensive care unit in hospital. The relatives of 20-year-old Hisham who was shot in the back said his recovery will be long but described him as a “resilient young man.”
In a statement he said: “We join Americans across the country in praying for their full recovery, and we send our deepest condolences to their families.”
“While we are waiting for more facts, we know this: there is absolutely no place for violence or hate in America. Period. No person should worry about being shot at while going about their daily lives.”
Last month, a landlord in Illinois was charged with hate crime after killing six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and severely wounding his mother.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said they received 774 requests for help and reports of bias since October 7. Cair said this marks 216 percent increase since the previous year, and called it an “unprecedented” spike.
Cair’s research and advocacy director, Corey Saylor, said American Muslims “are facing the largest wave of Islamophobic bias that we have documented” since Donald Trump’s Muslim ban in 2015.