The police in Burlington, Vt., on Sunday were investigating the shooting of three students of Palestinian descent as a possible hate crime, the city’s mayor said.
The three victims, all men in their 20s and students of American universities, were walking near the University of Vermont on Saturday when they were shot and wounded by a white man with a handgun, the police said in a statement on Sunday. Two of them were wearing a Palestinian kaffiyeh.
Two of the victims were in stable condition; the third sustained much more serious injuries, the authorities said.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” the chief of the Burlington police, Jon Murad, said.
Mayor Miro Weinberger of Burlington added in the statement that the possibility that the shooting could have been motivated by hate was “chilling” and that the investigation was focusing on that.
The Burlington police said they were still looking to identify and locate the shooter on Sunday. They added that other than the fact that the students are of Palestinian descent and that two of them were wearing a kaffiyeh, they had “no additional information to suggest the suspect’s motive.”
Mr. Murad said in the statement that he has already been in touch with federal authorities in case investigators determined the crime was motivated by hate. But he added that they had limited information, and he urged the public to avoid making conclusions “based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
The Burlington police did not release the names of the victims but said that two of them are American citizens and the third is a legal resident. The families of the men identified them in a statement as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed.
The Ramallah Friends School, a private school in the West Bank, said in a Facebook post that all three men had been students there. They are now juniors in college: Mr. Awartani studies at Brown University, Mr. Abdalhamid at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Mr. Ahmed at Trinity College in Connecticut.
The three were walking to the house of Mr. Awartani’s grandmother for dinner, according to Marwan Awartani, a great-uncle and a former education minister of the Palestinian Authority. He said that the three took a picture together and sent it to Hisham’s parents minutes before they left for dinner.
Marwan Awartani added that the bullet that hit Hisham touched his spinal cord and that he lost feeling in the lower part of his body.
Mr. Ahmed was shot in the chest, and Mr. Abdalhamid had minor injuries, according to a statement from the families of the victims.
The families urged authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime.
“Why would anyone shoot kids who were wearing Palestinian kaffiyeh?” Marwan Awartani said in an interview.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said that its offices have received a huge rise in reports of anti-Muslim or anti-Arab bias since Oct. 7, the day that Hamas attacked Israel. The Anti-Defamation League said in late October that there also had been a considerable increase in reported cases of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault compared with the year before.
“This has to stop,” Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom and a friend of the families, said in a phone call on Sunday, pointing to the 6 year-old boy who was fatally stabbed last month in Illinois in what authorities said was an anti-Muslim attack.
The federal government opened discrimination investigations this month at half a dozen universities following complaints about anti-Muslim and antisemitic harassment. The Biden administration opened the investigations as part of “efforts to take aggressive action to address the alarming nationwide rise in reports of antisemitism, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and other forms of discrimination,” according to a news release published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
On X, the platform previously known as Twitter, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said it was “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.”