A black SUV hit Stanford student Abdulwahab Omira on the Palo Alto, Calif., campus before 2 p.m. Friday, according to university officials. The driver of a Toyota 4Runner was reported to have made eye contact with the victim, accelerated toward him and struck him, then shouted “f— you and your people” while driving off, according to a news advisory from Stanford’s public safety department. Omira described the driver as a White man in his mid-20s, university officials said.
Omira was transferred to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, the university said. One of his friends told KTVU, a Fox affiliate in the Bay Area, that Omira had lost some sensation in his left leg.
The California Highway Patrol, which responded to the hit-and-run, said in a statement that its “preliminary information and the determination that the incident was a hate crime” led the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office to open a hate-crime investigation “to look further into the incident.” The agencies have not announced an arrest or released a suspect’s name. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday morning.
Omira, whom friends identified to local media as a Syrian refugee, released a statement Sunday through a student group that has been organizing sit-ins at Stanford to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza during the war with Hamas.
“As I lay in my hospital bed, grappling with a reality I had never imagined, I reflect on the importance of spreading love, kindness, and compassion in a world that seems to be steadily succumbing to hatred and prejudice,” Omira said. “This ordeal has solidified my resolve to advocate for love, understanding, and inclusivity.”
Omira described the driver as having short, dirty-blond hair and a short beard, and wearing a gray shirt and round-framed eyeglasses. The student said the driver “had previously shown animosity towards my community.”
“His hateful screams of ‘f— you and your people’ still echo in my ears as I grapple with the physical and emotional pain this incident has left in its wake,” he said.
Omira, who is listed on his student profile as an undergraduate computer science major, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Stanford’s leaders condemned the incident, saying they were “profoundly disturbed to hear this report of potentially hate-based physical violence on our campus.”
“Violence on our campus is unacceptable,” Stanford President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez said in a joint statement Friday. “Hate-based violence is morally reprehensible, and we condemn it in the strongest terms. We want to express our deep concern for the student who was injured, and for all affected by this incident.”
It is the latest incident to unfold at a U.S. college campus during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Public tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters have rocked Harvard University and Columbia University in recent weeks.
Most recently, Cornell University canceled classes last week after antisemitic and death threats were made to Jewish students. Patrick Dai, a 21-year-old Cornell student, was arrested last week and accused of posting an online message about shooting up a building frequented by Jewish students. Dai, who was charged with posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications, threatened to “bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot all you pig jews,” the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of New York said in a news release.
Even before the Israel-Gaza war began last month, hate crimes in the United States — including crimes against Jews and Muslims — had been on the rise. Federal officials have not yet released data showing how many threats or incidents have been reported since Hamas first attacked Israeli civilians and military installations on Oct. 7, triggering a massive and ongoing Israeli response.
But reporting on specific incidents and early data from nongovernment experts who study hate crimes suggest that the spike is significant, including an Oct. 14 incident in which an Illinois man is accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy and injuring his mother in an apartment they were renting from him. The 71-year-old suspect has pleaded not guilty to murder and hate-crime charges.
While Stanford’s department of public safety released two alerts Friday and Saturday about the hit-and-run, Omira claimed the school’s response was slow and inadequate.
“The hours following the incident were agonizingly silent from the institution that I had trusted to be my safeguard,” Omira said. “It took a multitude of emails and a cry for acknowledgment to bring forth a personal response from the administration.”
Stanford spokesperson Dee Mostofi said that as soon as campus authorities had enough details, the university issued information to the campus community about what happened.
Authorities and university officials are urging any witnesses and anyone with any information about the driver to come forward. The driver fled in a black Toyota 4Runner described as being model year 2015 or newer, officials said. The vehicle also had an exposed tire mounted to the rear, according to officials.
Yousef AbuHashem, who arrived from Gaza two years ago to study at Stanford, visited Omira in the hospital, according to KTVU. AbuHashem said Saturday that he took his security concerns to the provost two weeks ago.
“Are you waiting for someone to be hit or be killed to say something?” the student told KTVU.
Omira is a robotics and physics researcher interested in AI and advanced power generation systems, according to his Stanford profile. His profile says he owns “four patents in nuclear waste processing, disposal, and solar power systems with developing projects in medical and other commercial robotic applications.”
Despite the hit-and-run, Omira said he hopes people can stop the hate and violence that’s been rising.
“I implore everyone reading this: let us collectively denounce hatred, bigotry, and violence. Let us take the time to understand one another, to celebrate our diversity, and to stand united against the forces that seek to divide us,” he said. “There is immense power in love and understanding, enough to overshadow the darkness of hatred.”
Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.