More than 50 people gathered in front of a big Christmas tree Tuesday evening at a candlelight vigil in downtown Burlington to show their support for three college students who were shot this weekend. One is Palestinian and two are Palestinian American.

Longtime neighbors came there together, students from the University of Vermont, and a few people walked over with their dogs.

Many attendees said they came out to support the 20-year-olds who were shot on North Prospect Street while walking to dinner Saturday, less than a mile from the gathering.

Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed were visiting Awartani’s uncle in Burlington.

They were speaking a mixture of English and Arabic, and two were wearing a traditional Palestinian scarf when police say 48-year-old Jason J. Eaton fired four shots without speaking.

Court records show Awartani was hit in the spine, Abdalhamid in the glute and Ahmed in the upper chest.

Authorities on Monday charged Eaton with attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

"I feel so sad that these three men were just visiting for Thanksgiving and walking — literally walking down the road — and that they could just be existing in their daily lives and have someone violently interrupt that," said Burlington resident Lee Morrigan.

Awartani, Abdalhamid and Ahmed have been friends for more than a decade. They grew up together and attended a Quaker School in the West Bank.

Sharyl Green, a longtime Burlington resident, said she came to the gathering to honor the young men.

"I want them to know that we are all thinking about them."
Sharyl Green, Burlington

"In honor of their friendship, camaraderie, their open, beautiful, encouraging life," she said. "I want them to know that we are all thinking about them. I know I can't go visit them in the hospital, but I want them to know that we are here with our arms open."

At a press conference Monday, a representative for the families said the three men remained hospitalized.

"I just feel — of course I feel angry — but I also just feel so sad that these young men have to bear the burden of our limitations as a community, as a country, as a world," said Christy Swanson, of Burlington.

Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger attended the candlelight vigil on Church Street on Tuesday, Nov. 28. 2023.
Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger attended the candlelight vigil on Church Street on Tuesday, Nov. 28. 2023.
Lexi Krupp Vermont Public

"I heard one of the uncles say, yesterday at the press conference, that, you know, these young men came to the U.S. — or part of their decision was that it was likely safer to be here than in the West Bank — and that he feels betrayed in their decision. And I feel like that's on us as a community to take that very seriously and see what we can do." 

Some, like Morrigan, said they're trying to connect with neighbors who might be feeling unsafe.

"I'm just devastated that anyone has to even think about enduring this type of violence," Morrigan said.

Peter Richards, of Burlington, also attended the vigil. He said he wasn't that shocked by the violence.

"Having loved ones who are people of color in this town, I know that it’s not always as progressive and accepting as the rest of the nation thinks," he said.

"Sometimes the hate is more extreme in these progressive towns and I think we saw that this weekend." 

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Lexi Krupp is a corps member with Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.
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