[Episcopal News Service] Vermont Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown expressed grief after last weekend’s shooting in Burlington of three college students of Palestinian descent, and she joined other local leaders in calling for the violence to be investigated as a hate crime.
The victims, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, all age 20, were shot and seriously injured while out walking Nov. 25. A 48-year-old man has been jailed and charged with attempted murder in the attack.
“I grieve the hatred that fueled this senseless violence,” MacVean-Brown said in a Nov. 28 letter to the diocese. “I grieve the fact that the lives of these young men, who are about the same age as my daughter, will never be the same again. I grieve the seemingly unstoppable epidemic of gun violence that plagues our nation.
“Most of all, I grieve to think that the parents and families of these three young men sent them from Palestine to the United States in the belief that they would be safer here than there.”
The attack on the three students follows weeks of anxiety over threats of violence against Jewish and Arab communities in the United States since Oct. 7, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel and Israel responded by declaring war on Hamas in Gaza.
It was not immediately clear, however, whether the Israel-Hamas war had inspired the attack in Burlington. The city’s police chief told reporters this week that the gunman didn’t say anything to the students “and had merely approached them while they were walking down the street, essentially minding their own business.”
The three victims reportedly grew up together in the West Bank. Awartani and Abdalhamid are U.S. citizens, and Ali Ahmad is in the country on a student visa. All three attend colleges outside of Vermont and were spending their Thanksgiving break in Burlington with one of the victim’s relatives, according to news reports.
Awartani suffered the most severe injuries, and doctors fear he may never walk again because of the bullet that hit his spine.
MacVean-Brown said in her letter that Christians have an obligation to counter the hatred that can lead to such violence, including in Vermont, where nearly 94% of the state’s 650,000 residents are white.
“We must change the stories we tell ourselves about the safety of our communities where most people look the same and people of color and immigrants stand out. We must work to make our state a place in which all of God’s people are safe, and where elders of all descriptions can entrust us with their precious children,” MacVean said.
“As we pray for the young men shot in Burlington, let us also pledge ourselves and our congregations to making our beloved Vermont free.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.