AP – More than $950,000 have been raised for the recovery of one of the three college students of Palestinian descent who was shot in Vermont and is currently paralyzed from the chest down, according to a GoFundMe page set up by his family.
One of the bullets that hit Hisham Awartani on Nov. 25 is lodged in his spine, his family said.
“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.
Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad are childhood friends who graduated from a private Quaker school in the West Bank and now attend colleges in the eastern US. The 20-year-olds were visiting Awartani’s relatives in Burlington for the Thanksgiving break. They were walking to the house of Hisham’s grandmother for dinner when they were shot in an unprovoked attack, the family said.
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, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said. Authorities are investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.
“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.”
All three were seriously injured. Abdalhamid was released from the hospital last week.
The suspected gunman, Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested the following day at his Burlington apartment, where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them. Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder and is currently being held without bail.
The shooting came as threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities have increased across the US in the weeks since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on Oct. 7 after 3,000 Hamas terrorists invaded Israel from Gaza. They rampaged murderously through southern regions of Israel, slaughtering over 1,200 people, mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and abducted another 240 — including children and infants — who were taken hostage in Gaza. Some of the hostages have since been released in a week-long truce that ended on Friday.
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.”
War erupted after the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, led a shock assault in Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostage amid horrific acts of brutality. Israel declared war, vowing to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza and secure the release of the hostages. The Hamas-run health ministry says over 15,000 people have been killed in the Israeli aerial campaign and ground incursion — an unverified number that includes combatants as well as Gazans killed by errant missiles aimed by terror operatives at Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.