WBBM, WILL COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, CAIR, CNN
By Chris Boyette, Keith Allen, Lauren Mascarenhas and Virginia Langmaid, CNN
Joliet, Illinois (CNN) — A funeral and burial will be held Monday for the 6-year-old boy who was fatally stabbed when his Chicago-area landlord allegedly attacked him and his mother because the family is Muslim.
Family members will be joined by interfaith leaders, community members and officials in remembering 6-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume, according to a news release from the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The attack, which also left Wadea’s mother seriously injured, is being investigated by the Department of Justice as a hate crime.
The family’s landlord, Joseph M. Czuba, 71, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
Czuba did not make a statement to detectives, but investigators determined the victims were “targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis,” the sheriff’s office said. He was ordered held without bond by Judge Donald DeWilkins at an initial court appearance in Joliet, Illinois, on Monday.
Czuba spoke only briefly to tell the judge he intended to have his assigned public defender represent him in the case. His attorney, Kylie Blatti, told the court that Czuba is married and has no prior convictions.
A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for October 30.
The Justice Department “will use every legal authority at our disposal to bring to justice those who perpetrate illegal acts of hate,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “This incident cannot help but further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence.”
Authorities went to the residence in unincorporated Plainfield Township, roughly 40 miles southwest of Chicago, shortly before noon Saturday after a woman called 911 saying her landlord had attacked her, according to the sheriff’s office.
When deputies arrived, they found Czuba sitting on the ground, near the home’s driveway, the release said. The two victims were found in a bedroom, each with “multiple stab wounds,” and were taken to a hospital, according to the release.
Wadea was stabbed 26 times and died from his injuries. His 32-year-old mother, Hanaan Shahin, who had more than a dozen stab wounds, is recovering at the hospital and is expected to survive, the office said.
“My heart and thoughts today are especially with the mother, Hanaan Shahin, who is fighting serious bodily injuries at the hospital, not to mention the mental trauma of the gore she experienced and witnessed,” CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said in a statement. “She will be feeling Wadea’s loss more than anyone, but she is forced to mourn alone rather in the warm embrace of family and community at this time.”
The family lived on the house’s ground floor for two years without “previous notable issues” with Czuba, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said. But in texts to the boy’s father from the hospital after the attack, Shahin said the landlord “knocked on their door, and when she opened, he tried to choke her and proceeded to attack her with a knife, yelling, ‘you Muslims must die,’” according to the statement.
“This despicable hate crime is a shameful reminder of the destructive role Islamophobia plays in our society,” Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement.
“To take a six year old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement.
“Every single Illinoisan – including our Muslim, Jewish and Palestinian neighbors – deserves to live free from the threat of such evil,” the governor said. “May Wadea Al-Fayoume’s memory be a blessing.”
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden expressed shock over the attack in a White House statement.
“The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek – a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace,” the statement said.
The “horrific act of hate has no place in America, and stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are.”
“As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred,” the statement from the White House read.
A child who had just celebrated his birthday
Wadea had celebrated his birthday shortly before his death, Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s executive director, said in a news conference Sunday.
“He was a 6-year-old boy, he loved everything,” Rehab said of the child, recalling how Wadea’s father had described his son.
“He loved everybody, he loved his toys, he loved anything with a ball, basketball, soccer, he loved to color, he loved to swing around, he loved his parents, he loved his family and his friends, he loved life, and he was looking forward to a long, healthy, prosperous life,” he added during the news conference.
Wadea’s mother and father moved to the United States 12 and nine years ago, respectively, and their son was born here, Rehab said. They were from a village in the West Bank, he said.
“He has no clue about these larger issues happening in the world, but he was made to pay for it,” Rehab said.
In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, CAIR National wrote they were “shocked and disturbed” to hear of the boy’s death.
“The Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Palestinian racism being spread by politicians, media outlets, and social media platforms must stop.”
Acts of hate in the US
On Saturday, Israel’s military said its forces are readying for the next stage of the war in response to the unprecedented October 7 attacks by the Islamist militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. At least 1,400 people were killed during Hamas’ rampage, the Israel Defense Forces told CNN on Sunday.
In response, Israel has pounded Gaza with airstrikes that have killed more than 2,750 people, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Conditions there have deteriorated into a “complete catastrophe,” aid workers say, as tens of thousands of Palestinians try to flee south with dwindling access to water and food, prompting concerns of a humanitarian crisis.
With tensions running high around the world amid the violence in Israel and Gaza, officials are urging against acts of hate in the US.
A New York City bus rider wearing a turban and a mask was punched multiple times Sunday by an individual who attempted to remove his turban in what police are calling a hate crime assault. Police also charged a 19-year-old with assault and harassment as a hate crime after he allegedly attacked a Columbia University student who was hanging up posters on campus in support of Israel last Wednesday.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it “condemns the incitement campaigns, attacks, racist statements, and provocative positions that have been directed against Palestinian citizens and several Palestinian embassies and ambassadors in some countries,” it said in a statement, adding that it “calls on all nations to confront these actions and to hold their promoters and those behind them accountable.”
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CNN’s Celina Tebor, Michelle Watson and Brad Parks contributed to this report.