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Mother of Palestinian student shot in Vermont says he suffered a spinal injury and "can't move his legs"

Moms of shot Palestinian students speak out
Mothers of Palestinian students shot in Vermont give update on sons' conditions 11:08

Days after three 20-year-old college students of Palestinian descent were shot and wounded in Burlington, Vermont, the mothers of two of the young men arrived in the U.S. from Jerusalem and the West Bank to see their children for the first time since the attack. 

Tamara Tamimi, the mother of Kinnan Abdalhamid, traveled from Jerusalem and Elizabeth Price, the mother of Hisham Awartani, from the West Bank. They both shared updates about their sons' conditions in an interview Wednesday with CBS News. 

Abdalhamid has been discharged from the hospital where he and his friends were taken in the aftermath of the shooting near the University of Vermont campus on Saturday, his mother said. But Awartani, who suffered serious injuries, remained in critical condition and still could not move his legs after a bullet damaged his spine, Price told CBS News.

"He was very seriously injured," said Price, who added that her son was supposed to have surgery Wednesday to repair his clavicle. 

"From what we are speculating, the bullet hit the clavicle, which slowed it down so that when it hit the spinal column, it embedded itself but didn't break it," she said. "So ultimately we're just incredibly grateful that he's alive. We could have lost our child and I think that's the thing that devastates us most every time we stop and think about that."

Price said that Awartani, a junior at Brown University, may be transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation center within the next week or so "because he has an incomplete spinal injury, which means that he currently can't move his legs."

Abdalhamid was grazed in the right buttock by a bullet that "thank God did not penetrate too deeply," said Tamimi. He "bolted" when he saw the shooter's pistol, running across the street and jumping over a wall to hide, she said.

"The perpetrator apparently kept shooting at him," Tamimi said, noting that her son, being a trained EMT, was distressed over not being able to help his injured friends. Abdalhamid is a pre-med junior at Haverford College.

From left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Hisham Awartani.

"He was incredibly saddened and, in fact, thought his friends were dead," she told CBS News.

The third victim, Tahseen Ahmad, a student at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, is said to be in stable condition, according to a statement released by the president and vice president of Trinity College. 

Abdalhamid, Awartani and Ahmad were all shot while walking down a street on Saturday night in Burlington, where they were visiting one of the young men's relatives for Thanksgiving weekend. Two of the men were wearing traditional Arab keffiyeh scarves when the shooting occurred, and they told detectives that they had been talking to each other in a mixture of Arabic and English, said Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad at a news conference on Monday. They told police that the gunman approached them without speaking to them, according to Murad.

"He stepped off a porch and produced a firearm and began discharging that firearm," Murad told reporters. At the time, the police chief said that one of the three students shot had been discharged from the hospital while the other two remained in the intensive care unit.

The suspected shooter, 48-year-old Jason Eaton, was arrested on Sunday and has been charged with three counts of attempted murder in the second degree. Eaton pleaded not guilty to the charges during a court appearance Monday morning, and the judge ordered for him to be held without bail, saying the bail would be revised at a later time.

Eaton lives in an apartment building in front of the spot where the shooting happened Saturday, police said. Murad told reporters at Monday's briefing that the suspect had recently purchased a .380-caliber firearm that authorities recovered while searching his residence. Officers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were able to match the weapon to casings found at the scene of the shooting, the Burlington police chief said.

The shooting happened amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and as reports continue to surface of rising antisemitism and Islamophobia in the U.S. The shooting was being investigated as a possible hate crime, and Murad told reporters that police were working to determine a motive for the incident.

"Although we do not yet have evidence to support a hate crime enhancement, I do want to be clear that there is no question this was a hateful act," said Sarah George, the state's attorney for Chittenden County in Vermont, which includes Burlington.

Officials detail investigation, arrest in shooting of 3 Palestinian students in Vermont 16:58

Tamimi told CBS News on Wednesday that she believes rhetoric circulating in the U.S. about the war in the Gaza Strip played a role in the shooting.

"Words absolutely matter, and it is those words, that rhetoric, it's the dehumanization of Palestinians that has led to this event. Because perpetrators like this defendant are emboldened, because the dehumanization makes it very easy," she said. "And I have to say, if those three boys looked like him [Eaton], were not dressed the way that they were, were not speaking Arabic, I honestly do not think our children would be in the situation that they are now."

Abdalhamid's mother described her situation as "every mother's nightmare that has just come true."

"And to understand and know that it is because of who they are is absolutely soul-destroying for us," she said. 

Price said she agreed "completely" with Tamimi. She also spoke about the close friendship between the three young men, which goes back to their childhood. She and Tamimi were close friends even before having children. 

"I think the time that they had in the ICU room together has bonded them even more, because they were able to keep each others' spirits up," said Price. "They were each individually facing a terrible trauma, and, for Hisham, definitely a devastated future. But the fact that they could be together and joke with each other and tease each other, I think helped them process some of that initial trauma to the point where they were able to stabilize themselves. So they're very lucky to have each other."

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