Shooting of 3 students of Palestinian descent rocks Vermont's largest city

A gunman remains at large and unidentified, police said.

November 26, 2023, 10:52 PM

Three college students of Palestinian descent were wounded Saturday night in a shooting in Burlington, Vermont, by an unidentified gunman, who opened fire at them "without speaking,” according to police.

A preliminary investigation by the Burlington Police Department determined the three students, all in their 20s, were shot outside the home of one of the victim's relatives, which they were visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday, police said in a statement Sunday. The gunman, who police described as a white male, remains at large, according to authorities.

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime," Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement. "And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven. But now that the victims are safe and receiving medical care, our next priority is identifying, locating, and apprehending the suspect. We’re working every investigatory angle on this case, and will continue to provide reliable, factual information to the public while protecting the victims and our investigation."

Murad urged the public to "avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less."

The FBI's Albany field office said in a statement Sunday night said they are continuing to "actively investigate" the shooting in Burlington alongside the Burlington PD and other agencies.

"Our office has deployed numerous technical, forensic, and investigative resources in support of the investigation, to include victim services, and computer and cell phone analysis," the FBI's statement on X read. "We will bring all these resources to bear to determine any potential factors and motives and work with all parties involved to bring those responsible to justice."

(L-R) Tahseen Ali Ahmed, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Hisham Awartani in an undated image.
Janeen Rishmawi, Communications, Institute of Middle East Understanding

President Joe Biden was briefed on the triple shooting and will continue to receive updates as law enforcement gathers more information, according to White House officials.

The shooting unfolded Saturday evening near the University of Vermont campus, but none of the victims attended school there, according to a joint statement from their families.

The students were shot in the front yard of the house belonging to one of their relatives after they had returned from bowling, according to police.

Two of the victims were wearing keffiyehs, or traditional Palestinian headscarves, when they were attacked, according to police.

The names of the victims were not immediately released by the police, who said the students initially asked that they not be publicly identified.

But the students' families identified them in a statement as Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdalhamid, who attends Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ahmed, who is enrolled at Trinity College in Connecticut.

The victims are graduates of the Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker school in Ramallah, in the West Bank, their families said.

File photo of Burlington Police, Vermont.
Burlington Police Department/Facebook

"As parents, we are devastated by the horrific news that our children were targeted and shot in Burlington, VT," the victims' families said in the joint statement. "At this time, our primary concern is their full recovery and that they receive the critical medical support they need to survive. We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children."

The families called on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, "including treating this as a hate crime."

"We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice. We need to ensure that our children are protected, and this heinous crime is not repeated," the victims' families said. "No family should ever have to endure this pain and agony. Our children are dedicated students who deserve to be able to focus on their studies and building their futures."

Two of the students are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident, according to police.

The shooting occurred at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, according to police. Police said the suspect, who they described as a white man with a beard, opened fire on the students without any type of verbal warning.

"The three were walking on Prospect Street when they were confronted by a white male with a handgun. The suspect was on foot in the area," police said in a statement. "Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot. All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities."

All three students remained hospitalized on Sunday, two in stable condition, while one has sustained much more serious injuries, according to police.

“Violence of any kind against any person in our community is totally unacceptable and we will do everything in our power to find the perpetrator and hold them fully accountable," Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement. "That there is an indication this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling, and this possibility is being prioritized in the BPD’s investigation."

Weinberger noted that a month ago, following the deadly surprise attack launched by Hamas terrorists on Israel, he stood in front of Burlington City Hall and told his city's residents, "This is not a time to reject or alienate our neighbors."

"As the Burlington Police do their work, I am asking Burlingtonians again to stand together, to support these victims, their families, and communities with love and kindness," Weinberger said. "We don’t yet know why this appalling crime happened, but we do know that the outcome is terrible for three young men who were visiting our city to enjoy time with friends and family during a holiday meant for the celebration of community."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator. CAIR also called on state and federal law enforcement authorities in Vermont to investigate a possible biased motive for the shooting.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, issued a statement on the social media site X, calling the shooting "shocking and deeply upsetting."

"Hate has no place here, or anywhere," Sanders said. "I look forward to a full investigation. My thoughts are with them and their families."

Citing a rising number of domestic hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs and Jews, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a warning last month that the intensification of the war between Israel and Hamas will keep the United States on a "heightened threat environment in the near-to-medium term."

In an intelligence assessment, the DHS warned of more potential antisemitic and Islamophobic hate attacks in the United States.

"Targeted violence attacks may increase as the conflict progresses," the assessment said.

ABC News' Matt Foster and Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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