Police in Burlington continue to hunt for suspects in the fatal stabbing of a 23-year-old man at a downtown pizzeria early Sunday.

At 3:08 a.m. Sunday, police responded to Piesanos Restaurant on Main Street for calls of a reported fight and assault. They found Abubakar Sharrif stabbed, bleeding heavily inside the restaurant. Police gave him first aid, and an ambulance took him to the UVM Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Acting Police Chief Jon Murad said the incident took place after bar closings and after the night shift officers went home. He says the downtown area was mostly empty.

“It was really just a small number of people who happened to be in this pizzeria, and something set off a conflict between them,” Acting Chief Murad says.

Police say the fight started inside Piesanos, and by the time police got there, the suspect had left the scene. Detectives are working to identify the people involved in the fight and the person who had the knife. Murad is not sure if the two parties involved knew each other.

“We are looking for assistance from the public. Anyone who was there that night, including people who participated in this altercation is urged to come forward,” he says.

This latest homicide case comes at a time when the Burlington Police Department is understaffed, and looking to get more officers on the streets. The acting chief says this would make a difference.

“There are study after study that demonstrates that mere police presence does in fact diminish crime,” he explains. “To contradict those studies, particularly a pronounced desire over the past two years, it has been proven completely wrong. Everything we are seeing is indicative of the fact that police presence does in fact affect people’s behavior, particularly criminal behavior.”

He adds, these types of crimes aren’t happening during the day in the downtown area.

“The more people who embrace our city, and the more people who recognize that it is a safe and vibrant city, the more safe and vibrant it will be.”

This is Burlington’s fifth homicide of 2022. Murad says the previous four have been solved. There have also been 25 gunfire incidents to date, and police say 80% of those incidents have been solved.

“I don’t know that Burlington has ever seen five homicides in a single year,” he said.