Updated Jan. 25 at 2:45 p.m.
BURLINGTON — Community members gathered on a quiet street in Burlington’s New North End Tuesday night to support a local high school student who, according to a member of his family, was hospitalized last week after a group of young people drove to the family’s house and attacked the student when he came outside.
The Burlington Police Department is investigating the incident, which took place the night of Jan. 17 on Pleasant Avenue, Acting Police Chief Jon Murad said in an email. It wasn’t clear on Tuesday evening why the high schooler, specifically, was assaulted by the group.
VTDigger is not identifying the student, who is a minor, or his family member, because the family member expressed concerns about their safety.
The group of about three dozen local residents walked down part of Pleasant Avenue Tuesday night, many holding candles and homemade signs bearing messages such as “love conquers hate.” The student and his family stood outside their home looking on, with one family member placing a hand on the student’s back, as neighbors in the crowd sang songs, including “We Shall Overcome.”
The student, who attends the Center for Technology in Essex, was knocked unconscious in the incident and may have a concussion in addition to facial injuries, the family member said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. The student was released from the hospital the night of the attack, the family member said, and has been recovering quickly.
The family member said she and the student were both home Jan. 17 when two cars pulled up carrying at least five people, four of whom she identified as students at Rice Memorial High School. She said she has spoken to the high school’s principal about the episode.
The family member said she heard screaming and asked the student to go outside to see what was going on, thinking that there had been a car crash. The group would not leave, she said, and began beating the student — pinning him to the ground and kicking him repeatedly in the head. When the group drove off, the family member said, the student was left lying on the ground, unconscious and bleeding.
“I thought he was dead,” the family member said. “It was really, really terrifying.”
Marie-Claire Smith, who lives in a nearby home, was one of the people leading the singing Tuesday night. Smith was glad to see so many neighbors gathered together after the incident, which the student’s family member said left people shaken.
“I hope that this gathering will give them a nice and positive souvenir to replace these bad experiences that they have had,” Smith said.
The family member said she believes the attack stemmed from a fight among spectators at a varsity boy’s basketball game earlier in the day on Jan. 17 at Essex High School, in which that school was playing Burlington High School. The group that included students from Rice Memorial High — who were at the basketball game in Essex, she said — may have come to her house because they thought that a family friend would be there.
Rice Memorial High is a private Catholic high school in South Burlington.
Andrew Keough, the Rice principal, said in an email that a Rice student was hit by someone while watching the Burlington-Essex basketball game “and that he was very upset about it.” The principal did not know why the student was struck.
Keough said in a later email that the school was "thoroughly investigating" reports that its students were among the people accused of beating the student in Burlington. He declined to comment on whether those students were facing any related disciplinary action, citing federal privacy laws.
"Rice abhors and condemns physical violence. It is not consistent with the high standards of behavior that we expect from our students, on and off campus," the principal continued. "If students violate our expectations and engage in serious misconduct, there can be discipline, including expulsion from the school."
The Essex Police Department is investigating a fight that allegedly took place at the Jan. 17 basketball game, Chief Ron Hoague said, but investigators haven’t determined who was involved.
As the gathering wrapped up Tuesday night, several neighbors in attendance gave the student and his family members hugs before heading back home.
Stay on top of all of Vermont's criminal justice news. Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger's reporting on courts and crime.