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A Brown University student of Palestinian descent is left paraplegic after being shot


Three college students of Palestinian descent were shot in Vermont last month in what authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime. One student with severe injuries is recuperating in a Massachusetts rehabilitation center. Reporter Mikaela Lefrak with member station Vermont Public spoke with the mother of the shooting victim about how this act of violence has changed their lives.

MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: Elizabeth Price sits in a study room in a renowned spinal cord rehabilitation facility down the hall from where her 20-year-old son is resting. It's been about three weeks since the shooting left Hisham Awartani paralyzed from the waist down.

ELIZABETH PRICE: He is currently paraplegic. He has a bullet in his spine that could not be removed.

LEFRAK: Awartani was visiting extended family in Burlington for Thanksgiving with his two friends, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad. They were shot unprovoked while on a neighborhood walk. All three young men are of Palestinian descent. Awartani is a citizen of the United States, Ireland and the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank. His parents live in Ramallah in the West Bank. They flew to Vermont shortly after the shooting.

PRICE: And I just stroked his hair. And I just touched him and told him that we were here. And my husband came in and kissed his hand and just, you know, for us, it was just to have our baby back. I mean, you're a mother. Everyone who's a parent knows what it's like. No matter how tall they are, they are the baby that you held inside of you or the baby that you held in your arms.

LEFRAK: It's unclear whether her son will regain any mobility in his legs. When Price first got to the hospital, she told her son they wouldn't leave his side.

PRICE: It was just we're with him and we could take care of him and we could protect him.

LEFRAK: His two friends were also hospitalized in Burlington. They've since been released. The police have arrested and charged a suspect, Jason J. Eaton, with three counts of attempted murder. He's being held without bail in Vermont. The FBI and local authorities are also investigating whether the shooting was motivated by hate. Price says the Vermont community has showed up to support them. People from across the world have stepped up too, donating more than $1.5 million to a GoFundMe for Awartani's medical care and the future costs of adaptive living. Whatever he doesn't need will be donated to others with spinal cord injuries. His mom says he remains the same studious young man he's always been. He's in his third year at Brown University, studied archaeology and math, and he hopes to return to school as quickly as possible, perhaps even by next semester.

PRICE: We know that he is capable of achieving great things, and so we are optimistic that he will be able to recover from this.

LEFRAK: Friends from Brown have been visiting. Some even do political organizing from the lobby of the rehab center. While his long-term prognosis is still up in the air, there's also the emotional fallout from the shooting. It'll be a rough transition back to college after something like this, especially with the Hamas-Israel war still raging.

PRICE: The trauma is very deep. I mean, these boys have also, again, like Hisham and like us, we've had two months of destruction that we've watched. So they have a kind of a deep-seated grief already. And then on top of that, they have to deal with the fact that, you know, out of nowhere someone came and hurt them and hurt their friends.

LEFRAK: But for now, all Price is focused on is being with her son. She brings up an Arabic expression - sumud - which means to be steadfast, resilient, like an olive tree. When she calls home to the West Bank, she tells her family that Hisham is sumud. To her English-speaking friends, she says he is resolute, determined, brave. For NPR News, I'm Mikaela LeFrak in Burlington, Vt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mikaela Lefrak