RAMALLAH, West Bank — Loved ones of Vermont shooting victim Hisham Awartani can’t grasp how he was almost killed around the corner from his “granny’s house” on “a street he’s basically grown up on,” his mother said Monday.
His father didn’t want Awartani, a Brown University junior, coming home to the Middle East for the Christmas holidays, believing it was prudent for the young man to stay with his mother’s family in Burlington.
“The short-term shock is now evolving into something more complex as he tries to frame who he is in the world and what it means to be safe in America, particularly when you get shot down the street from your granny’s house in a street he’s basically grown up on,” said Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price.
Awartani was staying with his maternal grandmother, and his uncle lives next door to her, Price said.
He and two longtime friends — Haverford College’s Kinnan Abdalhamid and Trinity College’s Tahseen Ali Ahmad — have known one another since their days at the Ramallah Friends School in the occupied West Bank.
They had just finished bowling when they went out for a stroll on a residential street near the University of Vermont and the UVM Medical Center.
That’s where they were shot by a man who didn’t utter a word to them, police and Price have said.
Awartani is well-known and liked in the neighborhood, where unlocked doors and summer block parties are commonplace. He had no reason to feel unsafe, walking through town with his childhood friends, Price said.
“It’s a really easy place to be. You sit on the porch, people walk by, and they talk to you. And they know us — the entire community knows us,” she said.
“He’s been going there since he was 8 or maybe 10. So for him to have that taken away from him, I don’t know what that means for any of the boys and their ability to function normally,” she said.
Awartani told his mother that he saw the shooter, a white man wearing a black hoodie, approaching and that the group stepped aside to let him walk past.
“He pulled out a handgun and he shot at them, without saying anything, and then he left,” Price said. “Hisham fell to the ground, and he didn’t realize that he’d been shot. He didn’t feel any pain. He didn’t know what was going on, but he called the police. He was afraid the man would come back.”
Price’s mother and brother saw first responders speed past their homes without knowing where they were headed.
All three victims are in intensive care with varying degrees of wounds, Awartani’s uncle Rich Price said.
Abdalhamid is expected to make a “full and speedy” recovery, while Ali Ahmad is still in “quite of lot of pain,” he said. But Awartani’s spine was injured, and he “faces a long recovery.”
Abdalhamid is a student-athlete at Haverford, running in 200- and 400-meter races for the Division III track team. His uncle Radi Tamimi hopes Americans will have a better understanding of the struggles faced by Palestinians.
“Showing Palestinians in a good light, in this country, is rare,” Tamimi said in Burlington. “All we hear is negative aspects related to war, nothing related to what we believe represents who we are as a people.”
Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said the campus community was rocked by word of Ali Ahmad’s shooting.
“At this time, we ask that our community provide Tahseen and his family the privacy they need to get through this challenging situation,” she said in a statement Monday. “Words cannot express how disturbing this news has been.”
All of the victims’ loved ones are grateful the young men survived being shot at such close range.
“It’s a miracle that they’re all alive,” said Elizabeth Price, Awartani’s mother. “These bullets should have ended their lives.”
More than 1.7 million Palestinians have been displaced in the besieged Gaza Strip, where health officials say the death toll has surpassed 14,500 after weeks of Israeli bombardment.
Awartani spoke at a campus vigil shortly after fighting broke out, decrying the bloodshed.
“If Palestinians had to hold vigils every time our people were massacred, we would be bankrupt from buying candles,” The Brown Daily Herald quoted him telling the crowd. “There is no respite for us.”
Since Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and killed about 1,200 people Oct. 7, a spike in hate crimes against Muslims in America has brought back traumatic memories of the Islamophobia triggered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Being an Arab or being a Muslim in the U.S. is a dangerous thing,” Price said. “There’s a lot of anger, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what’s going on here, and there’s a lot of dehumanization. People don’t see Arabs or Muslims as people like them.”
Price described her son as a perpetually curious youngster “who wanted to know about everything; he was so curious.”
His maternal grandfather loves the San Francisco Giants, and he picked up fandom.
“He was a big baseball fan. My father likes the Giants, and so we’d … visit in San Francisco and we would go to baseball games,” Price said. “He knew everyone [all the players]. He knew Buster Posey, and he knew … all of their scores or whatever it is.”
The young man’s passion for knowledge has led him to an unusual double major in mathematics and archaeology.
Awartani has “this different ability to network information, to kind of bring information that looks disparate and then come together somehow,” his mother said.
“And he’s just, he’s just a delight,” she continued. “I mean, delight to talk to, and he’s, he’s a fascinating young man, and he has a lot of potential. I believe in him, because I believe his ability to see and be enriched by the world and be excited by the world, no matter what happens.”
Erin McLaughlin reported from Ramallah and David K. Li from New York City.