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Palestinian student shot in Burlington is paralyzed from chest down, his family says

Hisham Awartani with his father, Ali Awartani, and mother, Elizabeth Price. Awartani is a junior at Brown University, studying mathematics and archaeology.
Elizabeth Price
Hisham Awartani with his father, Ali Awartani, and mother, Elizabeth Price. Awartani is a junior at Brown University, studying mathematics and archaeology.

Hisham Awartani, a Palestinian-Irish-American college student who was shot last month in an unprovoked attack in Burlington, Vt., is paralyzed from the chest down, his family says.

Awartani, 20, was taking a walk on Nov. 25 with his childhood friends who are the same age and of Palestinian descent when a man approached them with a gun and shot all three.

Awartani and his two friends — Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad — were able to survive, but Awartani could face permanent paralysis in his legs due to a bullet lodged in his spine, his family said in a GoFundMe posted on Saturday to raise money for his medical costs.

"He has demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and fortitude — even a sense of humor — even as the reality of his paralysis sets in," his family wrote on the GoFundMe page, which was verified by NPR.

"The family is committed to his recovery and remain hopeful, in spite of the grave prognosis," they added.

As of midday Sunday, the fundraising effort had reached more than $400,000 toward it's $800,000 goal.

Awartani is scheduled to be released from the hospital next week and begin rehabilitation, according to his uncle Rich Price.

The man accused of shooting the three young men, Jason J. Eaton, 48, has pleaded not guilty on three counts of attempted murder. He is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 18, court records show.

The FBIand Vermont authorities are also investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime.

The attack was a chilling example of the increased violence against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities in the U.S. since the Israel-Hamas war broke out.

Awartani was visiting his grandmother in Vermont for Thanksgiving break from Brown University, where he is studying mathematics and archaeology, when the shooting occurred. At the time, his parents believed it would be safer for Awartani to stay in the U.S. with his grandmother than to return home to Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"My husband didn't want Hisham to come back for Christmas 'cause he thought America would be safe — safer than in Palestine," his mother, Elizabeth Price told NPRlast month. "He was worried about the boys being targeted as being Palestinian, but he thought in Burlington that wouldn't happen."

The Burlington Police Department saidAwartani and his two friends were walking down a residential street, speaking a mix of Arabic and English while two of them wore traditional Palestinian scarves known as keffiyehs when the gunman appeared.

Police added that the shooter did not speak before opening fire. Awartani was shot in the spine; Abdalhamid was hit in the glute; and Ali Ahmad was wounded in the upper chest, Vermont Public reported.

The three victims have been friends since elementary school. Abdalhamid is at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Ali Ahmad attends Trinity College in Connecticut.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.
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