Police in Burlington, Vermont, are searching for a white man suspected of shooting three 20-year-old men of Palestinian descent on Saturday, police said.
The three men were in Burlington visiting the home of one of the victim’s relatives for Thanksgiving, police said. They were on Prospect Street when an armed white man confronted them and, without speaking, allegedly fired at least four bullets around 6:30 p.m.
Two of the victims were shot in the torso, while the third man was shot in the lower extremities, police said. Two of the victims were in what police described as stable condition. The third victim “suffered much more serious injuries.”
Two of the victims were wearing keffiyehs, scarves that symbolize Palestinian solidarity, authorities said. Police said two of the victims are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident.
The suspect is believed to have fled on foot. Police have not yet identified him and investigators said there is no information at this time to suggest the suspect’s motive.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont said Sunday night that it was investigating “the identity of the shooter and his motives” to determine whether a federal crime had been committed.
“We recognize the suffering and anguish being experienced by the three injured men, their families and their communities,” Nikolas P. Kerest, U.S. Attorney for Vermont, said in a statement.
Investigators don’t know as much as they would like, said Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad. He urged the public to avoid jumping to conclusions “based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate crime,” Murad said. “And I have already been in contact with federal investigative and prosecution partners to prepare for that if proven. But now that the victims are safe and receiving medical care, our next priority is to identify, locate and apprehend the suspect. “We will work on all angles of the investigation in this case and we will continue to provide objective and reliable information to the public while protecting the victims and our investigation.”
Police did not identify the victims by name, but the victims’ families later identified them in a statement. All three victims attended Ramallah Friends School, a private, non-profit school run by Quakers in Ramallah. Currently, Hisham Awartani studies at Brown University, Kinnan Abdalhamid studies at Haverford College and Tahseen Ahmed studies at Trinity College, according to their relatives.
“As parents, we are devastated by the horrible news that our children were attacked and shot in Burlington, VT. At this time, our primary concern is for their full recovery and that they receive the critical medical support they need to survive. We are extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of our children,” the parents said in a joint statement.
“We call on authorities to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime,” the parents said. “We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice. We need to make sure our children are protected and this heinous crime is not repeated. No family should have to endure this pain and agony. Our children are dedicated students who “deserve to focus on their studies and build their future.
Haverford’s president and dean shared a joint statement regarding Sunday’s shooting.
“Kinnan and his friends are all Palestinian students studying at American colleges and universities,” they wrote. “Police are investigating the shooting and we are awaiting word on whether it will be pursued as a hate crime.”
Trinity’s president and vice president also shared a joint statement, saying they were “heartbroken” to learn that Ahmed was one of the victims of gun violence.
“A Trinity Student Life staff member went to Vermont early this morning to provide support and report that Tahseen wants the Trinity community to know that she is in stable condition at an area hospital and is aware that this message is being spreading.” they wrote.
Awartani remained hospitalized Sunday, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said in a statement. He is expected to survive his injuries.
“There are not enough words to express the deep anguish I feel for Hisham, his parents, his family and his friends. I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence – this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and discrimination – hatred that is growing in spiral in this country and around the world – will leave many in our community deeply shaken,” Paxson said. “The family has given us permission to share that Hisham Awartani, a junior at Brown, remains hospitalized, and we are very relieved and grateful to learn that he is expected to survive his injuries.”
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said it has “reason to believe that this shooting occurred because the victims are Arabs.”
“We are praying for a full recovery for the victims and will be ready to support the families in any way necessary,” said ADC national executive director Abed Ayoub. “Given the information collected and provided, it is clear that hate was a motivating factor in this shooting, and we call on authorities to investigate it as such. The rise in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of how that hatred turns violent.”
A White House official said Sunday that President Biden had been briefed about the shooting.
Senator Bernie Sanders responded to the shooting in a social media post.
“It is shocking and deeply disturbing that three young Palestinians have been shot here in Burlington, VT,” he said. “Hate has no place here or anywhere else. I look forward to a full investigation. My thoughts are with them and their families.”
Saturday’s shooting comes more than a month afterof a 6-year-old Palestinian boy in the Chicago area. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which describes itself as the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said in early November that there had been a in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incidents reported in the United States since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.