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Jason Eaton called himself a ‘radical citizen’. Now he’s accused of a hate crime shooting in Vermont

Jason Eaton, 48, faces three charges of attempted murder following the 25 November shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington. Katie Hawkinson reports

Wednesday 29 November 2023 20:55 GMT
The mugshot of Jason Eaton, the suspected gunman who shot three Palestinian students in Vermont.
The mugshot of Jason Eaton, the suspected gunman who shot three Palestinian students in Vermont. (Burlington Police Department)

Federal officers were canvassing for information on the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington, Vermont, when they knocked on the door of 48-year-old Jason Eaton, 48.

He met them with a chilling greeting.

“Agents were greeted by a man who stepped out of the hall out of the door towards them with his palms up at waist height,” Jon Murad, chief of the Burlington Police Department, told reporters Monday. “He stated something to the effect of: ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’”

He then told officers he wanted a lawyer and that he had a gun in his apartment, Mr Murad said.

Moments later, agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Mr Eaton in connection with the 25 November shooting of Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali and Kenan Abdulhamid.

Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdel Hamid and Tahseen Ahmed, the three Palestinian college students attacked by a gunman on 25 November while walking to a Thanksgiving celebration. (via REUTERS)

Following his arrest Sunday, he pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder at his arraignment.

Now, Mr Eaton is being held Northwest State Correctional Facility without bail while the three victims and their families heal from an attack that could be considered a hate crime, pending an investigation from federal officials.

One of the victims, 20-year-old Mr Awartani, may never be able to walk again after the gunman lodged a bullet in his spine.

Here’s what we know about Mr Eaton:

Harvard and Boy Scout resume

The first details about Mr Eaton’s life began to emerge on Monday via a copy of his resume obtained by The Daily Beast.

It shows the 48-year-old enrolled at the University of Idaho in 2001 for a bachelor’s in general studies with an emphasis on natural resource ecology and conservation biology. However, he came seven credits short of graduating.

The resume also lists a graduate certification in environmental education - pending the completion of his undergrad degree. Additionally, it lists a pro-professional forestry degree from Paul Smith’s College.

Mr Eaton went on to serve as a research assistant at Harvard Forest in 1999, per the resume, before moving back to Idaho to teach fifth- and sixth-graders at the McCall Outdoor Science School for two months in 2005.

In an odd twist, he reported working as an investment adviser the next year, Daily Beast reported.

A Vice report also indicated that Mr Eaton served as an assistant scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America in New York.

Just weeks before the shooting, Mr Eaton was allegedly fired from a sales assistant job at CUSO Financial Services in Vermont.

‘Radical citizen’ on social media

A YouTube account said to belong to Mr Eaton contains a wide array of videos, including those that discuss government surveillance, economics, and long COVID-19, NBC News reported.

Mr Eaton posted a video called “Expose Fauci,” in which he tells viewers to use “brain crystals” for “psychic powers,” per NBC.

On an X account believed to belong to Mr Eaton, his bio states he is a “radical citizen” patrolling “demockracy and crapitalism for oathcreepers.”

His banner image reads: “Libertarians want trans furrys [sic] to be able to protect their cannabis farms with unregistered machine guns.”

The house in Burlington, Vermont where police identified and arrested Mr Eaton on Sunday. (AP)

Harassment allegations

Mr Murad said Monday that Mr Eaton’s only other run-in with Vermont law enforcement was a traffic interaction.

But in 2019, Mr Eaton’s ex-girlfriend told police in DeWitt, New York he was sending her sexual messages after making it clear she did not want any contact with him. She said she called the police after seeing him drive outside her house.

The woman, then 36, told police Mr Eaton sent her “numerous text messages, emails and phone calls,” that were “were sexual in nature but not threatening,” according to department reports reviewed by NBC News. She also had ““several domestic disputes” with Mr Eaton in the past, according to the documents.

She did not press charges against him.

Police told reporters on Monday that Mr Eaton moved to Vermont this summer from Syracuse, New York, just a few miles away from the town of DeWitt.

‘Mental illness’

Mary Reed, Mr Eaton’s mother, told Daily Beast Mr Eaton had struggled with depression in the past.

“Jason has had a lot of struggles in his life but he is such a kind and loving person,” Ms Reed told the outlet soon after her son’s arrest. “I am just shocked by the whole thing.”

He ate Thanksgiving dinner with his family just days before the shooting, Ms Reed said.

Now, the victims’ families are speaking out against media coverage that implies Mr Eaton’s reported struggle with depression is linked to his alleged shooting of the three Palestinian students.

“Millions of people in America and across the globe struggle with mental health challenges. That does not make them pick up a gun and attack people based on their identity,” the statement from the families shared by the Institute for Middle East Understanding reads.

“We do not accept what this wrongfully implies about people who struggle with their mental health, nor do we accept it as justification or context for this heinous, hate-driven crime,” the statement continues.

They called on the media to report “responsibly and respectfully by not attempting to turn their attacker into a victim.”

“Further, we see the clear double standard; when white men commit crimes, they are described as victims struggling with their mental health and testimonies from family members are shared to describe them as good people—people of color are not given this same treatment,” the statement reads.

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