City leaders in Burlington, Vermont are calling a recent uptick in gunfire incidents an urgent public safety priority.
Burlington Police have tallied a dozen incidents so far this year, compared to the roughly two per year the mayor said they saw in the decade before the pandemic.
"We are a hair’s breadth away from something awful happening," warned Jon Murad, the acting chief of the Burlington Police Department.
On Sunday, the quiet of David Berezniak’s backyard in the city’s Old North End was shattered when one bullet screamed into the side of his home and another came through his fence. Debris was sent hurtling toward David and his loved ones sitting outside.
"This is one of the sweetest neighborhoods in Burlington, if not the state," said Berezniak, who served on the Burlington City Council from 2008-2012. "This doesn’t happen every day."
Berezniak suffered a cut and nasty bump to the back of his head.
"It felt like somebody threw a rock at my head," he told NECN & NBC10 Boston Thursday.
Berezniak was the innocent victim in the 12th gunfire incident in Burlington in 2022 — a number the mayor said is way up from pre-pandemic figures. Police are still investigating that incident.
In a press conference Thursday, Chief Murad, Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, and State’s Attorney Sarah George, D-Chittenden County, blamed the problem on a range of factors including illegal drug sales, economic stress, and record-high gun purchases in recent years.
"Everybody deserves to feel safe in their community and I understand that some people are not — they are feeling scared right now," said George, adding an assurance that she takes felony cases that impact public safety with the utmost of seriousness.
George promised to prosecute criminal gunfire cases when police can successfully identify a suspect and come up with strong evidence. At the press conference, she and Murad noted how the State’s Attorney’s office was able to convince judges that suspects in certain past gunfire cases should be held in jail without bail — including one in a shooting in a Burlington parking garage that injured three people, one seriously.
As for unsolved cases, such as Sunday’s near the home of Berezniak, Murad, George, and Weinberger pleaded with witnesses or people close to the shooters to come forward and point them to who’s involved. People involved in many of the 38 gunfire incidents since the start of the pandemic ran in the same circles, Murad noted.
Burlington Police this week circulated a surveillance image of a man in a red jacket, jeans, and a red hooded sweatshirt. He is suspected in a shooting in City Hall Park on May 23, in which another gunman was wounded but survived. Their early-morning shootout almost hit bystanders, police said — including a pregnant woman. The gunfire also broke store and theater windows and damaged a restroom, police said.
Burlington Police asked anyone with information about the man in the red hoodie to contact Detective Eric Kratochvil at 802-540-2308. A reward is available for information that leads to an arrest, investigators added.
Mayor Weinberger also wants city councilors to support the recruitment of police officers to fill vacant positions and called on Congress to pass gun reforms.
"To make action to stop gun violence one of their highest, most visible priorities right now," Weinberger said in his plea to members of Congress and candidates to represent Vermont in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
David Berezniak said he has follow-up medical appointments for his injury, but expects he’ll fully recover.
"The police that evening were just phenomenal," Berezniak said, adding that between members of law enforcement and friends and neighbors who called and checked on him, he felt well-supported after the scary incident in his yard.
The former city councilor insisted Burlington is one of the best small cities in America, and added he is grateful for the officials and other community members working to keep it that way.
"They just need to take it seriously," Berezniak said of how city leaders should approach gunfire in Burlington.