Alleged Burlington shooter attended Paul Smith’s College
Man accused of shooting students of Palestinian descent once lived in Adirondacks
PAUL SMITHS — The man accused of shooting three Palestinian students in Burlington, Vermont over the weekend is a former Paul Smith’s College student, the college has confirmed.
Jason Eaton, 48, has been charged with three counts of second-degree attempted murder. Police say he allegedly stepped off of his porch on a street outside his apartment near the University of Vermont campus on Saturday, walked up to a group of college students wearing keffiyeh Arabic scarves who were speaking a mix of Arabic and English, and shot them with a Ruger .380 caliber handgun.
The three students — Hisham Awartani, of Brown University, Kinnan Abdalhamid of Haverford College and Tahseen Aliahmad of Trinity College — all survived, but Awartani, who was shot in the spine, could face permanent paralysis.
The three had been visiting with Awartani’s family on the same street for Thanksgiving.
A motive for this shooting has not been released yet. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland says the Justice Department was trying to determine if this was a potential hate crime. Eaton has plead not guilty to the charges.
Time at Paul Smith’s
As law enforcement and news outlets began to look into Eaton’s online presence, they found his LinkedIn profile and resume, which said he had a “pre-professional forestry degree” from Paul Smith’s College. This news was shocking for current and former professors at the college who remembered seeing him in their classes back in the 1990s.
The Enterprise spoke with several professors and a student who had classes with Eaton at the time, but most said their memory of 27 years ago was not strong, they did not know him too well and weren’t sure if any anecdotes they had were relevant. Some also said they wanted to retain their privacy, not risk saying anything speculative about such a sensitive, developing subject and not bring the college into any unneeded negative press.
“The individual briefly attended the college more than two decades ago in the ’90s,” PSC Chief of Staff Nicole Feml said.
She said she is bound by federal privacy laws, which keeps her from divulging the years he attended, his major or if he graduated with a degree.
PSC forestry professor Randall Swanson said he had Eaton in his dendrology lab section that he taught in the fall of 1996.
“I don’t have any clear recollection of his personality or character,” Swanson said. “I can’t share how he performed academically with you.”
In his resume, Eaton wrote that he was involved with student government, mucked out the horse stalls each day before class, drove the stagecoach in a parade and presented at an ecosystem symposium on “how fast food and timber trade destroy undervalued rain forests.”
The Jan. 6, 1997 edition of the Enterprise contains a letter to the editor mentioning Eaton as a horse driver for a PSC winter sleigh ride event which describes him as a “forestry technology student.”
The April 3, 1997 edition of the Enterprise contained a photo of Eaton leading a horse logging demonstration at the college’s Visitor Interpretive Center.
Between 2004 and 2005, his resume says he worked at Adirondack Leadership Expeditions, a Saranac Lake-based behavior-modification wilderness program for troubled teens, which closed in 2013.
A ‘radical citizen’
On Eaton’s now-locked X account, formerly Twitter, he described himself as a “radical citizen” and dabbled with a conspiratorial mindset and radical politics.
No one at Paul Smith’s College interviewed for this story recalled him holding extreme or violent views while he was a student.
Online, Eaton has supported both left and right political causes and conveys himself as a libertarian, someone who supports transgender rights, cannabis and unregistered machine guns.
Law enforcement said he purchased the gun used in the alleged shooting back in April.
Most recently, Eaton had been a financial advisor, but was fired from that job. He had also worked as a farm hand, a Scout master, a research assistant at Harvard, a ski instructor and a teacher in natural science.
With the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, there has been speculation this shooting could have been related to that.
Eaton was a “very religious person” who reads the Bible often, his mother, Mary Reed, told the Daily Beast. But she said they had just spent the holiday together and he hadn’t talked about the Israel-Hamas conflict at all.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger called the shooting “one of the most shocking and disturbing events in this city’s history.”
“This horrific, unprovoked attack was a tragic violation of the values and character of this welcoming, inclusive and close-knit community,” he said in a statement.
The three victims have spoken about the shooting, saying while their homeland is engulfed with violence, they had believed the U.S. was a safe place for them to be. That belief has been shattered, Abdalhamid told the New York Times.
Awartani, the most seriously injured, still sent a statement to a vigil on his college’s campus on Monday.
“I understand that the pain is so much more real and immediate because many of you know me,” he wrote, “but any attack like this is horrific, be it here or in Palestine. This is why when you send your wishes and light your candles for me today, your mind should not just be focused on me as an individual, rather as a proud member of a people being oppressed.”
The Associated Press reported that in 2013 an ex-girlfriend of Eaton’s asked police to remove his shotgun from her home as they had split up and they had a history of domestic violence and she didn’t want the gun in her home.
In 2019, another ex-girlfriend of Eaton’s near Syracuse accused him of harassing her by allegedly sending numerous text messages, emails and phone calls that were sexual in nature but not threatening.
The AP reported that a police report said she wanted him to stop contacting her, but no charges were ever filed.