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Three Palestinian college students shot while visiting Burlington, Vt., according to police

Police are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime

Tahseen Aliahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Hisham Awartani. The three men were wounded in a triple shooting Saturday.

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Three Palestinian college students were hospitalized after they were shot Saturday night near the University of Vermont campus, according to police, who said they are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime.

Two of the students were stable, but one suffered “much more serious injuries,” the Burlington Police Department said in a statement Sunday afternoon that did not identify the students.

All three are 20-year-old men, who attend Brown University, Trinity College, and Haverford College, according to the schools.

At about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the three men were “walking on Prospect Street when they were confronted by a white male with a handgun,” Burlington police said. “Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled on foot.” No arrests had been made as of Sunday evening.

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This incident comes as the war raging between Israel and Hamas has raised tensions in the United States, which has seen anti-Muslim and antisemitic hate crimes rise over the month and a half.

Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said his department is looking into whether the triple shooting was a hate crime.

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” Murad said in the statement. “And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven.”

But, he added, “I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”

The US attorney for Vermont, Nikolas P. Kerest, said the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,  Firearms, and Explosives; and members of the  Chittenden County Gun Violence Task Force are aiding the investigation, and the US attorney’s office will determine whether the shootings were a federal crime.

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“We recognize the suffering and heartbreak that the three men who were wounded, their families, and their communities are experiencing,” Kerest said in a statement. “We offer our deepest condolences to all affected  by Saturday’s events. We deplore and condemn this violence and other similar acts.”

The shootings took place just a few blocks from the heart of the University of Vermont campus. As night fell Sunday, investigators continued to comb the area where the three were shot.

Amelia Abernathy, 20, a UVM junior from Virginia, said she was walking toward her home on North Prospect with her dog Saturday evening when she heard at least three pops, about 100 yards down the street.

“I’m from the South, so I know what gunshots sound like,” Abernathy said.

She saw two victims on the ground, she said, but didn’t see the third. She said she saw the shooter run off but didn’t get a look at his face. He was about 6 feet tall, she said, thin, and dressed in dark clothing.

She didn’t hear any words prior to the shooting but heard the victims moaning after they were shot. She thought they were partially covered by white sheets, but realized they were wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian head scarf.

“It’s a little scary,” said Abernathy, who said she gave police a statement.

Haverford College, which is in suburban Philadelphia, said a student at the school, Kinnan Abdalhamid, “is recovering from a gunshot wound in a hospital in Burlington, VT, after he and two of his lifelong friends were shot near the University of Vermont campus by an unknown assailant(s) Saturday evening.”

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Trinity College wrote in an email to students that Tahseen Aliahmad, a junior at the school, was shot in Burlington and is in stable condition.

Hisham Awartani, a junior at Brown University and one of the three victims, is also expected to survive, the school said in an email to students.

Brown University’s president, Christina H. Paxson, wrote that Awartani was Palestinian-Irish American.

“I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence — this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world — will leave many in our community deeply shaken,” she wrote. “We know it will heighten concerns about personal safety and security for Palestinian and Arab members of our community.”

The three men were visiting the Burlington home of one of the victim’s relatives over the Thanksgiving holiday, police said.

A statement from police said two of the victims were struck in their torsos and one in the lower extremities.

All three are “of Palestinian descent,” the statement said, and two are US citizens, while the third is a legal resident. Two of the students were wearing keffiyehs at the time of the assault, it said.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement that violence against anyone in the community is unacceptable, and the possibility that it could be a hate crime is appalling.

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”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,” he said.

UVM’s president, Suresh Garimella, said in a letter to students that there does not appear to be a specific threat to campus.

“In this period of unrest in other regions of the world, we encourage you to pay close attention to the sources and authenticity of information you receive about this incident,” he wrote. “We ask you to do your part in helping to avoid speculation as the investigation progresses.”

Vermont Governor Phil Scott called the shooting “a tragedy.”

“I have offered the State’s full support to the Mayor and Burlington Police Chief as this senseless crime is investigated, and in support of the Palestinian and broader Burlington community,” Scott said in a statement. “I urge Vermonters to unite to help the community heal, and not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations offered a $10,000 reward in a statement for information about the shooting. The Muslim advocacy organization called on law enforcement “to investigate a possible bias motive for the shooting.”

US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote on X, previously known as Twitter, that the news of the shooting is “shocking and deeply upsetting.”

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

The American Jewish Committee said in a statement posted on X that it was “horrified” by the attack.

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“We hope for a quick recovery for the victims and the swift apprehension of the perpetrator, the statement said. “We urge law enforcement to investigate this act as a possible hate crime.”

FBI spokesperson Sarah Ruane said that the bureau is aware of the incident in Burlington and is working with state and local law enforcement in Vermont.

“If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate,” she said in a statement.

The head of the Ramallah Friends School in the West Bank wrote in an email that the three victims had attended the Quaker school before going to college in the United States.

”Though we are grateful for their survival, the fear looms large, intensified by the knowledge that many of our students are scattered across the globe pursuing their studies,” Rania Maayah said in the email Sunday. “We do not think this was a random act,” she said, adding that she was afraid they were signaled out “for wearing the kufiya and speaking Arabic.”

She added, ”These three bright students study at prominent universities in the US and have a bright future ahead.”

Alexa Gagosz of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Sean Cotter can be reached at sean.cotter@globe.com. Follow him @cotterreporter. Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.