The family of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was fatally stabbed inside his home in Plainfield, Illinois, is preparing to bury him today. Police have accused the family’s landlord, 71-year-old Joseph Czuba, of stabbing the boy 26 times with a knife, a brutal murder the Justice Department is now investigating as a hate crime.
Wadea’s mother, Hanaan Shahin, 32, also suffered serious injuries after police officials say she was stabbed over a dozen times. According to Wadea’s father, who spoke at a Sunday news conference with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Czuba knocked on the family’s door and upon entry, “tried to choke her and proceeded to attack her with a knife, yelling ‘you Muslims must die!'”
Police have charged Czuba 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 confirmed that investigators have determined that Wadea and his mother were “targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”
“We 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.
Reports of threats against US Jews and Muslims have sharply increased in the wake of the current crisis in Gaza and Israel. The FBI, which is tracking the uptick in violence, declined to provide specific numbers. But the attacks come amid the unfolding Israel-Hamas war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The October 7 attack by Hamas killed about 1,400 people in Israel. Israeli forces have killed at least 2,329 in Gaza and 54 in the West Bank. That number is expected to rise significantly as Israel prepares for a ground incursion in Gaza, where, as the United Nations has warned, is on the “verge of the abyss” after Israel sharply cut off supply to everything from electricity, clean water, and fuel.
Amid Gaza’s deteriorating conditions, the United States has vociferously supported Israel’s retaliation efforts, claiming that it has an “obligation” to defend itself.
On Sunday, President Biden released a statement condemning Wadea’s murder. “Jill and I were shocked and sickened to learn of the brutal murder of a six-year-old child… The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek—a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace.” (Wadea’s parents immigrated from a village in the West Bank.) “This horrific act of hate has no place in America.”
Since Wadea’s murder, some have condemned the US political and media response to the war as a contributing factor to his killing.
“Let’s be clear: This was directly connected to the dehumanizing of Palestinians that has been allowed over the last week by our media, by our elected officials who have lacked the moral compass and lacked the courage to call for something as simple as de-escalation and peace,” Illinois State Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, the first Palestinian American elected to the state’s general assembly, said at CAIR’s news conference on Sunday.
Youself Hannon, Wadea’s paternal uncle, appeared to agree. “We are not animals,” he said at the news conference, likely referencing Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s statement calling Palestinians “human animals.”
“We are humans,” Hannon continued. “We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans, because this is what we are.”
“[Wadea] loved everybody,” said Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s executive director, drawing from descriptions from Oday Al-Fayoume, Wadea’s father. “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 has no clue about these larger issues happening in the world, but he was made to pay for it.”