On Saturday evening in Burlington, Vermont, three Palestinian college students fell victim to gun violence, prompting calls from civil rights organizations and the families of the victims for authorities to explore potential bias in the attacker’s motives.
As per a Sunday news release from the Burlington Police Department, the 20-year-old men are currently under medical care, with two in stable condition and one sustaining more severe injuries.
While strolling on Prospect Street during their Thanksgiving holiday visit to a relative in Burlington, the students encountered a white man armed with a handgun, according to the release. Without uttering a word, he fired at least four rounds from the pistol and reportedly fled on foot.
The police department noted that two of the victims are US citizens, while one is a legal resident. Additionally, two of the students were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves. The injuries sustained were distributed with two shots in the torso and one in the “lower extremities.”
Authorities stated that no additional information indicates the suspect’s motive. Ballistic evidence from the shooting has been recovered and will be submitted to a federal database, according to Burlington police.
On Sunday, the FBI announced its readiness to investigate the incident. Police Chief Jon Murad, in an earlier news release, mentioned that officers responded to a call and discovered two shooting victims, with the third located a short distance away—all in proximity to the University of Vermont campus.
The victims were promptly transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center. As of now, the shooter or shooters remain unidentified and at large, with the police department in the initial stages of investigating the crime.
‘A targeted shooting and a targeted crime’
As the investigation into the perpetrator and motive of the attack unfolds, civil rights groups and the families of the victims are highlighting the potential role of bias in the shooting.
In a CNN interview, an attorney representing the victims’ families characterized the incident as “a targeted shooting and a targeted crime.” Attorney Abed Ayoub stated that the suspect approached the victims and shot them, emphasizing that it wasn’t a robbery or mugging.
Ayoub expressed his belief that the students may have been targeted, in part, because two of them were wearing keffiyehs. In a collective statement, the victims’ families called on law enforcement to treat the attack as a hate crime.
“We will not be at ease until the shooter is brought to justice,” the families asserted. “No family should endure this pain and agony. Our children are dedicated students who deserve to focus on their studies and build their futures.”
The statement, issued by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, identified the students as Hisham Awartani, a Brown University student in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdalhamid, a Haverford College student in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ahmad, a Trinity College student in Connecticut.
Marwan Awartani, the great uncle of Hisham Awartani and a former Palestinian minister of education, informed CNN that the students were visiting Hisham’s grandmother in Burlington.
In a statement, Haverford College in Pennsylvania confirmed that Abdalhamid, a junior, is currently recovering from gunshot wounds at a hospital.
The three students, who graduated from Ramallah Friends School in the occupied West Bank, were mentioned in a post by US Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who described the shootings as “shocking and deeply upsetting.” Sanders emphasized that hate has no place and called for a thorough investigation.
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Husam Zomlot, identified the students as “three young Palestinian men” in a post on X, expressing concern about hate crimes against Palestinians and emphasizing the need for protection.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee stated in a release that they have reason to believe the shooting occurred because the victims are Arab.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators of the shooting.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions and hate crimes in the US since October 7, following a deadly attack by Hamas in Israel and Israel’s subsequent airstrikes across Gaza. In October, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy was stabbed to death by his family’s landlord in a case authorities are calling a hate crime.