3 Palestinian students were shot in Vermont

Civil rights groups are calling for a close look at the motive

From left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Hisham Awartani. The three students are receiving medical treatment for gunshot wounds in Vermont. (Photo: Institute for Middle East Understanding)

 
(CNN) — Three Palestinian college students were shot in Burlington, Vermont, on Saturday evening, prompting calls from civil rights organizations and the victims’ families for authorities to look into possible bias by the attacker.

The 20-year-old men are all receiving medical care, according to a Sunday news release from the Burlington Police Department. “Two are stable, while one has sustained much more serious injuries.”

The students were walking on Prospect Street while visiting a relative in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday when “they were confronted by a white man with a handgun,” says the release.

“Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot,” police said.

Police said that two of the victims are US citizens and one is a legal resident.

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Two of the three students were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves, according to the police department. Two were shot in the torso and one in the “lower extremities.”

Authorities said that “there is no additional information to suggest the suspect’s motive.”

Detectives recovered ballistic evidence from the shooting, which will be submitted to a federal database, according to Burlington police.

The FBI said Sunday it was “prepared to investigate” the incident.

Police Chief Jon Murad said in an earlier news release that officers responded to a call and found two shooting victims, with the third a short distance away, all close to the University of Vermont campus.

The victims were transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center, the news release said.

The shooter or shooters have not been identified or apprehended, Murad said, and the police department is “at the earliest stages of investigating this crime.”

‘A targeted shooting and a targeted crime’

While an investigation into the perpetrator and motive behind the attack unfolds, civil rights groups as well as the victims’ families are calling attention to the role bias may have played in the shooting.

In an interview with CNN, an attorney for the families of the victims described the incident as “a targeted shooting and a targeted crime.”

“The suspect walked up to them and shot them,” attorney Abed Ayoub said. “They weren’t robbed, they weren’t mugged.”

Ayoub said he believes the students were targeted in part because two of them were wearing keffiyehs.

In a joint statement, the victims’ families urged law enforcement to investigate the attack as a hate crime.

“We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice,” they 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.”

The statement, released by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, identified the students as Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University in Rhode Island; Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Tahseen Ahmad, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut.

Marwan Awartani, a former Palestinian minister of education and the great uncle of Hisham Awartani, told CNN the students were visiting Hisham’s grandmother in Burlington.

Haverford College in Pennsylvania confirmed in a statement that Abdalhamid, a junior, is recovering from gunshot wounds at a hospital.

The three students had graduated from Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker-run private nonprofit school in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, according to the school.

US Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont described the shootings as “shocking and deeply upsetting” in a post on X. “Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation,” he wrote.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, posted on X about the incident, naming the students and identifying them as “three young Palestinian men.”

“The hate crimes against Palestinians must stop. Palestinians everywhere need protection,” Zomlot wrote on X.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said in a news release that they “have reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations announced it was offering a $10,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators” of the shooting.

The shooting comes amid heightened tensions and hate crimes in the US in the weeks since October 7, when Hamas launched a deadly attack in Israel and Israel responded with devastating 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.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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