Three young men of Palestinian descent who were in Burlington for a Thanksgiving holiday gathering were shot and injured — one seriously — near the University of Vermont, police said Sunday. Authorities said the attack may have been a hate crime.
Police are searching for the shooting suspect after the attack, which occurred at about 6:25 p.m. Saturday near the UVM campus, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said.
Two of the men are in stable condition and the other suffered “much more serious injuries,” Murad said Sunday. The three, all age 20, were visiting the home of one of the victim’s relatives and were walking when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun.
“Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled,” Murad said in a news release. “All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities.”
Murad said all three men are of Palestinian descent and expressed deepest sympathies for the men and their families. Two are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident. Two of the men were wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves.
Murad said there is no additional information to suggest a motive.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” he said in a news release.
He added, “The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now. But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
Earlier Sunday, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee released a statement saying that the victims were Palestinian American college students and that there is “reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab.”
It said a man shouted and harassed the victims, who were conversing in Arabic, then proceeded to shoot them.
The FBI said it is aware of the shootings.
“If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate,” Sarah Ruane, an FBI spokesperson based in Albany, New York, said in a statement.
The White House said that President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting and will continue to receive updates as law enforcement gathers more information.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement that it has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction of the person or people responsible for the shootings.
The Institute for Middle East Understanding provided a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, that it described as being from the families of the victims.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” it said. “We call 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.”
In response to the shooting, U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries encouraged people to “unequivocally denounce the startling rise of anti-Arab hate and Islamophobia in America.”
“No one should ever be targeted for their ethnicity or religious affiliation in our country,” the New York Democrat said in the statement posted on X. “We will not let hatred win.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, also denounced the shooting.
“It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT. Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation,” Sanders said in a statement.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said that any indication that the shooting could have been motivated by hate is “chilling.”
Gov. Phil Scott called it a tragedy, calling on the state’s residents to unite and “not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness.”
The Vermont-New Hampshire chapter of Jewish Voice For Peace, which has urged an end to the Israel-Hamas war, released a statement saying it was “appalled by the shooting.”
“We are in solidarity with the students, their families and all those affected by this clear act of hate,” the organization said Sunday. “We are in solidarity with all Palestinian people in occupied Palestine, around the world, and here in Vermont — and we are committed to creating a Vermont that is safe and welcoming for all.”
The American Jewish Committee, an advocacy organization for Jewish people worldwide, also said via X it was “horrified” by the attack and urged “law enforcement to investigate this act as a possible hate crime.”
Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions are escalating in the U.S. as the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war. A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the militants freed more hostages and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners, all young men. It’s the third exchange under a four-day truce deal.