Hisham Awartani, one of the three Palestinian college students who were shot while walking in Vermont over Thanksgiving weekend, is paralyzed from the chest down after a bullet became lodged in his spine, his mother said.
Awartani’s family has launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to help the 20-year-old junior at Brown University, who is scheduled to be released from the hospital next week and then go on to receive rehabilitation care, said his mother, Elizabeth Price, in a statement to CNN.
“We believe that Hisham will meet this challenge with the same determination I’ve witnessed this week,” she said. “The fund will help cover costs associated with his rehabilitation, air travel of his family and expenses related to the adaptive needs of his new reality.”
Awartani and his two longtime friends from the Israeli-occupied West Bank – Kinnan Abdalhamid of Haverford College and Tahseen Ali Ahmad of Trinity College – were out for a walk on Saturday in Burlington, chatting as they often did in English and Arabic, when they were shot, according to Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad. Two of the men were also wearing traditional Palestinian scarves known as keffiyehs at the time of the attack, he said.
In addition to Awartani’s life-altering spinal injury, the two other men were shot in the upper torso and lower extremities and hospitalized in the ICU, according to police. Both of the victims have since been released from the hospital.
Abdalhamid’s parents said in a statement Tuesday evening they are “extremely relieved” he was released from the hospital but “know that this tragedy will shape the rest of our lives.”
“Kinnan told us that he was afraid to leave the hospital,” they said. “Our child may be physically well enough to be out of the hospital, but he is still shaken from this horrific attack.”
The suspect in the attack, 48-year-old Jason J. Eaton, was arrested Sunday and charged with three counts of attempted murder, to which he has pleaded not guilty. Authorities say they haven’t determined a motive in the attack but have said they are investigating whether the incident was motivated by hate.
“It’s been a gut-wrenching and difficult six days, but it’s also been a remarkable and awe-inspiring time - first to watch Hisham and his two childhood friends meet this experience with resilience, strength and even deep concern for others,” Price said Saturday. “…and second to see and feel the incredible support from all over the world, including messages of love and support from many of you.”
If the full amount raised by the GoFundMe isn’t needed, the money will go toward a fund to support other Palestinians who are more vulnerable and “much less fortunate than him,” Price said.
“We ask that you stand in solidarity with all those who ache knowing the natural conclusion of dehumanization of any people is hateful violence,” her statement reads.