How ‘America’s safest state’ became a gun violence hotspot: Vermont’s murder-rate DOUBLES in two years as fentanyl deaths spiral out of control

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Vermont State Police say for the second straight year, murders topped 20 – nearly double what it was in 2021
  • The deadly crime wave comes as the state is battling soaring fentanyl overdoses, with 243 opioid deaths in 2022, a 50 percent increase on 2020

Vermont’s homicide rate last year continued an upward trajectory, putting a cap on a spate of crime not seen in nearly three decades.

Vermont State Police (VSP) say for the second year straight, murders topped 20 – nearly double the number of homicides than in 2021. 

The deadly crime wave comes as the state is battling soaring fentanyl overdoses, with 243 opioid deaths in 2022, up by a staggering 386 percent compared to a decade ago and a 50 percent increase on 2020.

Worsening matters, VSP – responsible for about 200 towns, 90 percent of the state’s land mass, and 50 percent of its 650,000-strong population – is in the midst of an unprecedented staffing crisis. 

VSP Major Dan Trudeau, the official tasked with getting to the bottom of the bouts of violence, called the recent crime ‘concerning’, before blaming it – at least partially – on drugs. Fueling the situation, he said, is fentanyl – which has flooded across the border from Mexico.

State Police say for the second straight year, murders topped 20 – nearly double what it was a few years ago, and an almost threefold increase from 2019

First surfacing a decade ago - when 63 fatal opioid overdoses spurred a speech from the state's then-governor - the situation has since worsened more than fourfold, statistics show

First surfacing a decade ago – when 63 fatal opioid overdoses spurred a speech from the state’s then-governor – the situation has since worsened more than fourfold, statistics show

Prior to that, homicide and gun violence rates in the Green Mountain State were notoriously low, and are cops now struggling to find what’s behind the recent surge

Prior to that, homicide and gun violence rates in the Green Mountain State were notoriously low, and are cops now struggling to find what’s behind the recent surge

‘We’re prone to have some violence like all states do, but in a small state with a low population, it certainly has a greater effect on people – when they hear about it,’ said Trudeau of 2023’s 27 homicides, seven of which were known to be drug-related.

‘We’ve typically been in the low teens to mid-teens, maybe for an annual – sometimes lower than that,’ he continued, as more than half the incidents involved the use of a firearm.

‘It’s certainly concerning.’

When asked about possible causes, the top cop pointed to the seven drug-related murders, which all involved suspects and victims from out of state.

‘It’s turned to, the source and supply is now coming to Vermont,’ Trudeau told WCAX-3 in a sit-down interview.

Statistics support the senior official’s assertion – and show how the once-placid locale, like many others run by progressives, is in the midst of an unprecedented drug crisis.

First surfacing a decade ago – when 63 fatal opioid overdoses spurred a speech from the state’s then-governor –  the situation is now worsening, statistics from the Vermont Department of Health show.

Since then, the number of fatal overdoses has more than quadrupled to 243 in 2022 – expected to be bolstered by a similar number for a still-being-tabulated 2023.

Most of the deaths involved fentanyl, an incredibly deadly substance that over the past few year, has been increasingly used by dealers to spike drugs like heroin. 

The spat of violent crimes has drained valuable state police resources, cops have said - and has also hindered the rural state's long-held reputation as one of the nation’s safest

The spat of violent crimes has drained valuable state police resources, cops have said – and has also hindered the rural state’s long-held reputation as one of the nation’s safest

In October alone, his force investigated seven homicide cases and one suspicious death in the span of three weeks, with several cases remaining open

In October alone, his force investigated seven homicide cases and one suspicious death in the span of three weeks, with several cases remaining open

VSP Maj. Dan Trudeau - the investigator tasked with getting to the bottom of the bouts of violence - called the recent crime 'concerning', before blaming it on drugs

VSP Maj. Dan Trudeau – the investigator tasked with getting to the bottom of the bouts of violence – called the recent crime ‘concerning’, before blaming it on drugs

'We’re prone to have some violence like all states do, but in a small state with a low population, it certainly has a greater effect on people - when they hear about it,' said Trudeau of 2023's 27 homicides, seven of which were known to be drug-related

‘We’re prone to have some violence like all states do, but in a small state with a low population, it certainly has a greater effect on people – when they hear about it,’ said Trudeau of 2023’s 27 homicides, seven of which were known to be drug-related

'It’s certainly concerning,' he said, speaking to WCAX-3 in a sit-down interview in January

‘It’s certainly concerning,’ he said, speaking to WCAX-3 in a sit-down interview in January

Most of the deaths this year past involved fentanyl, an incredibly deadly substance that over the past few year, has been increasingly used by dealers to spike drugs like heroin

Most of the deaths this year past involved fentanyl, an incredibly deadly substance that over the past few year, has been increasingly used by dealers to spike drugs like heroin

As a result, cops in Trudeau's police force have been forced to respond to an abnormal amount of emergencies involving overdoses - taking them away from other calls. He warned last month:  'We're doing more work - our calls for service go up every year - with less people'

As a result, cops in Trudeau’s police force have been forced to respond to an abnormal amount of emergencies involving overdoses – taking them away from other calls. He warned last month:  ‘We’re doing more work – our calls for service go up every year – with less people’

As of the end of October, though, the number opioid-related accidental and undetermined deaths stood at 201. The number is higher than the three-year average through October.

Most of the deaths involved fentanyl, an incredibly deadly substance that over the past few year, has been increasingly used by dealers to spike drugs like heroin, often unbeknownst to the buyer.

As a result, cops in Trudeau’s already spread-thin police force have been forced to respond to an abnormal amount of emergencies involving overdoses – taking them away from other important calls.

‘There are certainly Vermonters that sometimes attempt to steal or rip off the drug dealer themselves,’ Trudeau added of other dynamics contributing to rise in crime, before noting ‘there can be some degree of turf war between drug dealers.’

He added how in October alone, his force investigated seven homicide cases and one suspicious death in the span of three weeks, with several cases, as of Saturday, remaining open.  

This has drained valuable VSP resources, he said – and has also hindered the rural state’s long-held reputation as one of the nation’s safest.

He warned last month: ‘We’re doing more work – our calls for service go up every year – with less people’.

Local criminology professor Penny Shtull, meanwhile, had more to say on the future fruits of the phenomenon, as opposed to some of the potential causes

Local criminology professor Penny Shtull, meanwhile, had more to say on the future fruits of the phenomenon, as opposed to some of the potential causes

When asked about a solution, she said she and other experts are working with police to concoct one - stating that they are looking at federal data secured over past few years for the entire country, hoping it will provide some guidance

When asked about a solution, she said she and other experts are working with police to concoct one – stating that they are looking at federal data secured over past few years for the entire country, hoping it will provide some guidance

As Shtull indicated, the violent crime rate for the country has fallen steadily over the past 20 or so years, following a drastic drop in the mid-90s

As Shtull indicated, the violent crime rate for the country has fallen steadily over the past 20 or so years, following a drastic drop in the mid-90s

Property crimes nationwide have also followed a similar downward trajectory since the early nineties

Property crimes nationwide have also followed a similar downward trajectory since the early nineties  

Local criminology professor Penny Shtull warned that the increased crime rates could harm the local economy which relies on tourism. 

‘It can increase people’s perception of fear or safety,’ the instructor at Norwich University said of the potential effects crime could have on the state’s tourism.

‘It can impact tourism or impact people’s willingness to go to areas that have seen an increase in homicide,’ she continued.

When asked about a solution, she said she and other experts are working with police – stating that they are looking at federal data secured over past few years for the entire country, hoping it will provide some guidance. 

‘Nationwide, we’re looking at what type of programs or practices – whether that’s law enforcement or on a governmental level in terms of policies and practices – may have reduced the overall, nationwide crime rate and whether those can be applied to places like Vermont.’

As Shtull indicated, the violent crime rate for the country has fallen steadily over the past 20 or so years, following a drastic drop in the mid-90s.

Murders, meanwhile, followed a similar trajectory – that is until 2014, after which it suddenly spiked from the 4.5 murders per 100,000 people to the 6.1 where it sits today.

That said, the same report from the FBI – released last month – touted a decrease in gun violence in infamous hotspots like Philadelphia, Detroit, and Los Angeles all experiencing significant declines in shootings, both fatal and otherwise. 

Worsening matters is state cops' short-staffed police force, with 51 positions currently unfilled, cops said - with about 25 percent on some sort of family, military or other leave, added Vermont State Police Director Col. Matthew Birmingham (pictured)

Worsening matters is state cops’ short-staffed police force, with 51 positions currently unfilled, cops said – with about 25 percent on some sort of family, military or other leave, added Vermont State Police Director Col. Matthew Birmingham (pictured)

'It can increase people’s perception of fear or safety,' the instructor at Norwich University said of the potential effects crime could have on the state's tourism, as several of their murder investigations remain open

‘It can increase people’s perception of fear or safety,’ the instructor at Norwich University said of the potential effects crime could have on the state’s tourism, as several of their murder investigations remain open

But still, places like Vermont, unexpectedly, are in the midst of 30-year-highs, fueled by incidents ranging as far south as Brattleboro, all the way to the Northeast Kingdom 

A slew of shooting deaths this past fall – including the November 25 incident that saw Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed shot by a 48-year-old part-time farmer who describes himself as a ‘radical’ libertarian on the ‘ADHD spectrum’ – taxed the short-staffed State Police further, with only two arrests made.

‘Many communities are experiencing an alarming rise in gun violence with recent shootings happening in Newport, Danville, St. Johnsbury, Brattleboro, Castleton, Leicester, Brookfield,’ said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

In regard to the November incident that left the three students injured and one of them permanently paralyzed, the 53-year-old Democrat said it ‘was one of the most shocking and disturbing events in this city’s history.’

One of cops’ two murder arrests since November was the gunman suspected of carrying out the seemingly unprovoked killing, Vermont local James Eaton.

He was arrested two days after the murder at his home, and is said to have told police: ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’ 

The recent shootings of three college students of Palestinian descent in November - Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed - enflamed matters more, as the small state continues to grapple with the unforeseen spree

The recent shootings of three college students of Palestinian descent in November – Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed – enflamed matters more, as the small state continues to grapple with the unforeseen spree

One of cops' two murder arrests since November was the gunman suspected of carrying out the seemingly unprovoked killing, 48-year-old Vermont resident James Eaton

One of cops’ two murder arrests since November was the gunman suspected of carrying out the seemingly unprovoked killing, 48-year-old Vermont resident James Eaton 

One of the few arrests cops have made in the slew of murders, Eaton appeared before a judge at a virtual court hearing in November where he pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted second degree murder

One of the few arrests cops have made in the slew of murders, Eaton appeared before a judge at a virtual court hearing in November where he pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted second degree murder

He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder.

Meanwhile, as state cops continue to struggle with the abnormal rash of shootings, the agency currently has a 15 percent vacancy rate, the department confirmed.

Currently, there are 51 positions in the roughly 330-strong force unfilled, cops said – with about 25 percent on some sort of family, military or other leave, said Vermont State Police Director Col. Matthew Birmingham.

‘So that puts us in a challenging position,’ he said in an interview.

Presiding over Trudeau’s Criminal Division and two others, he proceeded to promise: ‘We’re doing more work – our calls for service go up every year – with less people.’

Meanwhile, State Police are making progress on the investigations into other shooting deaths, he said, including that of a 77-year-old retired college dean who was shot while walking on a recreational trail in small town Castleton in October.

However, months later, the man who allegedly shot Vermont State University’s Honoree Fleming about a mile south of the school she oversaw for years is still at large – with a police sketch providing what appears to be the solitary clue. 

Still, some investigations will take longer than others, Birmingham said in an interview this past November. 

Meanwhile, State Police are making progress on the investigations into other shooting deaths, he said, including that of a 77-year-old retired college dean who was shot while walking on a recreational trail in small town Castleton in October. Pictured: Honoree Fleming, 77

Meanwhile, State Police are making progress on the investigations into other shooting deaths, he said, including that of a 77-year-old retired college dean who was shot while walking on a recreational trail in small town Castleton in October. Pictured: Honoree Fleming, 77

Vermont State Police released a sketch of a 'person of interest' with a clean-shaven face and short, spiky hair who had been seen on the trail around the time of the murder. He remains at large more than three months later

Vermont State Police released a sketch of a ‘person of interest’ with a clean-shaven face and short, spiky hair who had been seen on the trail around the time of the murder. He remains at large more than three months later

Still, some investigations will take longer than others, Birmingham said in an interview this past November, as the murders and shootings range across the states cities and counties. While not exactly a trend, the data to figure out solutions to an unexplained problem

Still, some investigations will take longer than others, Birmingham said in an interview this past November, as the murders and shootings range across the states cities and counties. While not exactly a trend, the data to figure out solutions to an unexplained problem

‘But I am confident that we are going to make progress on all of them that will end in resolutions for victims.’

Over the last seven years, the state’s homicide numbers ranged from 17 in 2017 to as low as 11 the following year. 

2023 saw 24 homicide investigations involving a total of 27 deaths. 2022 saw 25 – also a record at the time.  

While not exactly a trend, the data to figure out solutions to a still unexplained problem.

Cops and experts, meanwhile, continue to investigate. 

DailyMail.com has reached out to Birmingham and the VSP for comment.

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