SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The man accused of shooting three Palestinian college students in Vermont last weekend had a shotgun confiscated by police in upstate New York a decade ago, after an ex-girlfriend said there were domestic disputes and wanted the weapon removed from her home, police records show.
The then-37-year-old woman told Syracuse police that she and Jason Eaton had just broken up and were no longer living together. She also told them he had a history of mental illness, according to the records reviewed by NBC News.
"She has a history of domestic violence with Eaton," Officer Justin Smith wrote regarding the property complaint call on Aug. 1, 2013.
It's unclear from the records the extent of the domestic violence and mental illness claims made by the ex-girlfriend, and Syracuse police said Wednesday that no criminal charges were filed involving Eaton or the woman.
NBC News is withholding the woman's name since it typically does not identify victims of potential domestic violence.
Police said they removed the weapon, a Deerslayer 20-gauge shotgun, from the home and it was stored as evidence. It's unclear if Eaton later reclaimed the gun from the police department.
Authorities said the firearm was legally obtained.
Eaton’s past has come under scrutiny as police continue to investigate a motive for the Burlington, Vermont, shooting, which has added to the fears of rising Islamophobia in response to the conflict in Gaza and prompted calls from civil rights groups for authorities to weigh additional hate crime charges.
Authorities removing Eaton's shotgun wasn't the first time he was named or involved in a police call in or around Syracuse, where he had been living prior to moving to Burlington in recent months.
Two weeks before his ex-girlfriend called police, Eaton had initiated a call to the home on child custody issues related to a child that he and the woman shared, police records show. Details of that call were not immediately available.
In total, Eaton initiated or was named in 37 police reports from April 11, 2007, to Nov. 16, 2021, although mostly for minor incidents, such as calling in a traffic accident or having his car broken into.
On Oct. 10, 2021, Eaton called police about a dispute with his landlord. Police responded and they settled the matter at the scene, records show.
Margaret Jansch, Eaton’s public defender in Vermont, said Wednesday that her office would not comment when asked about his past brushes with law enforcement.
NBC News reported Tuesday that another ex-girlfriend of Eaton's called police in DeWitt, a suburb of Syracuse, in 2019 to say he had been sending her "numerous text messages, emails and phone calls." The messages, which "were sexual in nature but not threatening," came after the woman made it clear she didn't want "to communicate with him or see him anymore," according to a police report.
Police encountered Eaton while the ex-girlfriend spoke with an officer, according to the report, and while she didn't want Eaton to be arrested, she asked for a domestic incident report to be completed so she could possibly use it in securing a restraining order against him.
Eaton was never arrested in connection with any of the incidents involving Syracuse police.
Following his arrest in Burlington on three counts of attempted murder in the second degree, Vermont police said he did not appear to be known to them beyond several traffic and vehicle-related tickets from 1998 to 2016.
The three shooting victims — Kinnan Abdalhamid, Tahseen Ali Ahmad and Hisham Awartani, all 20 — told investigators they were walking past a house Saturday evening near the University of Vermont campus when a white male emerged, pulled out a gun and opened fire. The trio — longtime friends who graduated from the same school in the occupied West Bank and are attending separate colleges in the U.S. — suffered injuries to the spine, chest and glute.
Two of the three victims were wearing kaffiyehs, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, and said they spoke a mix of English and Arabic during their walk, according to investigators. The friends also said they did not know the shooter and didn't recall him saying anything to them before firing.
Burlington police said they encountered Eaton, 48, during a canvas of the homes in the area Sunday, and after knocking on the door of his apartment, he allegedly told federal agents, "I've been waiting for you," and advised them he had a shotgun inside.
Burlington police executed a search warrant, which they said led to the discovery of a Ruger .380 pistol and ammo inside the top dresser drawer in a bedroom. The distinct red-tipped ammo was the same type of bullet found at the scene, according to a probable cause affidavit, and police said ballistics tests confirmed the match.
Investigators also said they retrieved a .22-caliber rifle and two shotguns from the home.
The pistol used in the shooting was obtained legally in April through a federally licensed firearms dealer in Vermont, and no flags were raised in the purchase, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said this week.
Eaton, who pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder charges, is being held without bail pending a hearing. Lawyers representing him have declined to comment on the charges or any motivations.
Public records show Eaton has family living in Vermont, and those reached by phone this week declined to comment.
Deon J. Hampton reported from Syracuse, Laura Strickler from Washington and Erik Ortiz from New York.