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Palestinian student knocked on a neighbor’s door to get help for his friends before realizing he had also been shot

A Palestinian college student described how his training as an emergency medical technician helped him respond when he and his friends were shot in Vermont over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Kinnan Abdalhamid spoke to CNN by phone Wednesday night, detailing a harrowing account of being shot with his friends Hisham Awartani and Tahseen Ali Ahmad. A gunman is accused of shooting the trio while they were taking a walk in a Burlington neighborhood after spending time with family and friends last Saturday night.

“On the way back, we see this man on his porch essentially looking away from us. He turns around, looks at us, and without saying a word — it was almost surreal — he went down the steps, pulled out a pistol and shot my friend.

“I heard the thud on the ground, and then he started screaming,” Abdalhamid recounted. “A split second later he shot my other friend, and I hear this thud on the ground.”

He said he that he believed his friends were dead because they were shot from such close range.

“It really seemed that he was aiming to kill,” he said.

The shooting came as Muslims, Palestinians, Jews and other communities in the US say they are becoming increasingly fearful of hate-motivated attacks as war between Israel and Hamas continues in the Middle East. In recent weeks, the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy in the Chicago area and the death of a Jewish protester during a rally in Southern California accentuate tensions felt in communities nationwide.

Abdalhamid, 20, recalled to CNN running away from the scene before the man shot him – an attack on the group he believes was hate-motivated.

“I was able to jump the fence of one of the houses. I believe that’s when he shot me,” said Abdalhamid, who was shot in his lower extremity.

Before realizing he was shot, Abdalhamid managed to knock on a neighbor’s door, and that person called 911.

“That’s when I noticed a sharp pain. So, I put my hand behind my back, and that’s when I realize my hand was soaked in blood,” Abdalhamid continued.

Abdalhamid said his recently completed training as a paramedic helped him determine that there was no time to lose.

“Because I’m an EMT, I know that what helped me was that with gunshot wound victims, there is a better chance of survival if the police just drive you straight to the hospital. So, I told them, ‘Hey, please drive me straight to the hospital. I’m losing consciousness, we can’t wait for the ambulance,’ and they drove me.”

Abdalhamid, a Haverford College student, said the wellbeing of his two friends remained his priority throughout what he described as “a nightmare.” Abdalhamid was released from the hospital earlier this week while Awartani and Ahmad remain hospitalized as their injuries were more severe.

Jason Eaton, 48, was charged with attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail. Earlier this week, Eaton’s attorney, Margaret Jansch, said it was “premature to speculate” about a possible hate crime motivation.

Sketch shows where victim was shot

After the shooting, Abdalhamid and his two friends saw each other again at the hospital, he said. That’s where they reached a consensus as to what allegedly drove the gunman to shoot them.

“We all agreed essentially in one second, probably because we spoke Arabic. Nothing else in our heads makes sense as to why he would do this,” he said.

Burlington Police, the lead agency in the investigation, have previously confirmed two of the three young men were also wearing keffiyehs - traditional Palestinian scarves worn in a sign of solidarity with Palestinians. Police are looking into whether these factors made the three young men targets of a hate-motivated attack.

A sketch Abdalhamid drew of the attack. - court records
A sketch Abdalhamid drew of the attack. - court records

“I believe if he was just out there to just shoot anyone, I think that would have happened a while back,” Abdalhamid said. “That’s just the most logical thing.”

The trio had gone for at least one other walk through the neighborhood wearing the keffiyehs during the holiday weekend and fear Eaton may have stalked them before the shooting, Abdalhamid said.

Court records obtained by CNN echo much of Abdalhamid’s account and include a diagram he drew for police the night of the shooting. The sketch indicates for police where he was shot, fled and ultimately found help that night.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said investigators have not reached a conclusion on what motivated the attack, he said in a separate interview with CNN on Wednesday.

“Nothing that I have heard at this point is that critical piece of information that we’re all looking for that would really explain how he could have done this,” Weinberger told CNN.

Abdalhamid is back with his family and is beginning his physical and emotional recovery while attempting to keep the focus on his two life-long friends.

“I really urge everyone to pour their support onto Tahseen and Hisham because they both are still in the beginning stages of recovery. I just hope they come out well and safe,” he said.

Speaking to ABC’s “The View” on Thursday, he expressed gratitude for the love and support he has received.

“I didn’t expect a story about a Palestinian being shot to go this far and wide. I’m extremely grateful. But I still have this underlying fear because of the experience,” he said.

His mother, Tamara Tamimi, expressed the same gratitude, but also a deep frustration with the treatment of Palestinian people in the US.

“We thought he would be safer here,” she told “The View.” “I feel like no Palestinian is safe anywhere.”

Victim’s mother sees son for first time

Abdalhamid’s friend, Hisham Awartani, is still recovering at the hospital, and there’s a possibility he may not be able to walk again due to a spinal injury that will require long-term care, officials have said.

Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price, saw him for the first time Wednesday at the hospital after arriving in Vermont from the West Bank. She told CNN’s Erica Hill he was alert after having surgery and happy to see his parents again.

“It was painful,” Price said, “It was painful seeing our son who we had seen last in the summertime so incapacitated.”

Price said her son told her he believes the attack was targeted because they were Palestinian, adding he sees the attack “within the context of the oppression of his people.”

“As he’s described, he’s just one casualty of a much wider conflict. And so I think he sees this in a much larger context of the dehumanization of the Palestinian people,” she added.

“He sees this as something that comes along with the identity of being a Palestinian. That people don’t respect the validity of what it is to be Palestinian and respect the humanity of Palestinians,” Price said.

Price noted that since the war began, the three victims have expressed feeling unsafe over roughly the past two months.

The childhood friends had grown up in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and attended school in Ramallah before enrolling in US colleges. Awartani attends Brown University in Rhode Island, and Ahmad is a student at Trinity College in Connecticut, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding.

“I think all three young men had experienced a sense of insecurity even on their campuses the last seven weeks,” she said.

CNN’s Jillian Sykes contributed to this report.

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