One of three young men of Palestinian descent wounded in a shooting in Burlington, Vt., may never be able to walk again after being shot in the spine, his family said.
A spokesperson for the family of Hisham Awartani, 20, said Tuesday that the Brown University student is currently paralyzed from the waist down, with a bullet lodged in his T2 vertebra, and may never regain the use of his legs.
Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price, provided a similar prognosis in media interviews.
“He’s confronting a life of disability, a potentially irreversible change to his life and what it means for his future,” Price told NPR in an interview from her home in Ramallah on the West Bank.
Awartani and his two friends, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, both also 20, were shot as they walked on a residential street near the University of Vermont. Prosecutors have charged Jason J. Eaton, 48, who lives in an apartment on the street where the shooting occurred, with three counts of attempted second-degree murder.
Eaton pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail pending a detention hearing. Authorities are investigating the shootings as a possible hate crime.
Awartani was shot in the spine, Ali Ahmad suffered a chest wound, and Abdalhamid was shot in the glute area, according to court documents. Abdalhamid attends Haverford College, and Ali Ahmad is enrolled at Trinity College.
“I think Kinnan’s injuries are, though difficult, he will make a full and speedy recovery,” Rich Price, Awartani’s uncle, said at a news conference on Monday. “Tahseen is in quite a lot of pain. And my nephew Hisham received a spinal injury as a result of the shooting and faces a long recovery.”
Elizabeth Price told CNN that her son and his friends had just gone to her 8-year-old twin nephews’ birthday party and then went for a walk about two blocks from her mother’s house when the assailant approached them and opened fire.
“I think Hisham and his friends have experienced a lot of harassment in recent months, and a lot of toxic narrative about who they are as Palestinians,” she told CNN.
The three students were speaking a mixture of English and Arabic just before they were shot, authorities said. Two were wearing traditional Palestinian scarves called keffiyehs.
“In this context, which is very toxic towards Palestinians and Muslims and Arabs, and in a current social state where people are ‘othered’ very easily, it is easy to make a link between the actions that dehumanize Palestinians in general and the actions of someone who used his gun to express his opinion,” Price told CNN.
Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday that she and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, were praying for the three young men.
“Doug and I join President Biden, the First Lady, and Americans across the country in praying for the full recovery of the three Palestinian students who were shot in Burlington, Vermont as they traveled to one of their grandmother’s homes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” Harris said in a statement. “We send our deepest sympathies to their families and to all those who have been impacted by this senseless violence.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.