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Monday, October 16, 2023

6-Year-Old Boy Fatally Stabbed in Anti-Muslim Attack, Authorities Say

6-Year-Old Boy Fatally Stabbed in Anti-Muslim Attack, Authorities Say

“Officials said they considered the attack, outside of Chicago, a hate crime, tied to the fighting in Israel and Gaza.

Yousef Hannon, the uncle of a 6-year-old boy killed in Plainfield Township, Ill., spoke before a lectern crowded with microphones, at a news conference at the Muslim Community Center in Chicago. Other men stood beside and behind him as he spoke.
Yousef Hannon, the uncle of a 6-year-old boy killed in Plainfield Township, Ill., spoke at a news conference at the Muslim Community Center in Chicago.Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

By Johnny DiazMitch Smith and Robert Chiarito

Mitch Smith reported from Chicago. Robert Chiarito reported from Chicago and Plainfield Township, Ill.

The authorities in suburban Chicago accused a man of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old boy on Saturday and seriously wounding the boy’s mother because they were Muslim, an attack that officials tied to the violence in Israel and Gaza.

The killing in Illinois alarmed Muslim leaders, who called on American politicians and journalists to more fully reflect the humanity of Palestinian people as they address the conflict overseas.

“This was directly connected to dehumanizing of Palestinians,” said Abdelnasser Rashid, a Democratic Illinois state representative who is Palestinian American. 

Investigators in Will County, Ill., southwest of Chicago, described a gory scene. They said a 71-year-old landlord turned on the boy and his mother, who were his tenants, at their home in Plainfield Township on Saturday morning, stabbing them repeatedly with a serrated knife that had a seven-inch blade. 

The boy, identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume by a family member and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was stabbed 26 times and pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the sheriff’s office. The boy’s mother, 32, was in serious condition with more than a dozen stab wounds, officials said. Officials said she ran into a bathroom and continued fighting off the attacker as she dialed 911. Relatives said the family is Palestinian American.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Sunday that “detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.” The statement did not specify how investigators knew the motive, but said they had conducted interviews and reviewed other evidence.

A boy wearing a plaid shirt button shirt, dark pants and a top hat that says "Happy Birthday."
Wadea Al-FayoumeCAIR National

The man accused in the attack, Joseph M. Czuba, 71, was being held on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Mr. Czuba was scheduled to make an initial court appearance in Will County on Monday, according to online records. It was not clear whether he had hired a lawyer. 

Late Sunday, the Department of Justice announced that it had opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the attack. 

The assault on Saturday came amid mounting violence between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel that left more than 1,300 Israelis dead, prompting intense retaliation that has killed 2,670 people in Gaza, according to officials in Gaza. Across the Middle East, fears of a widening conflict and worsening humanitarian crisis are mounting.

Suburban Chicago has a large Palestinian American community, including an area with many Arab restaurants and shops that some refer to as Little Palestine. The attack happened in a different part of the Chicago suburbs, in a home along a busy stretch of highway near a Chevrolet dealership and a barbecue restaurant. That property, about 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, was adorned with several American flags, an advertisement for organic honey and a sign asking people to pray to end abortion.

Mariola Jagodzinski, who lives two houses away, said she had never had any negative interactions with the suspect. She said she had given toys to the mother of Wadea, the 6-year-old, and was speechless and distressed when she heard about the killing.

“He was a playful child — really full of energy,” Ms. Jagodzinski said. “Kids are innocent. This really destroys so many hearts.”

On Sunday, the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, denounced the stabbing and called it “our worst nightmare.”

“Our hearts are heavy, and our prayers are with the darling boy and his mother,” Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of CAIR-Chicago, said in a statement.

The authorities did not confirm the names of either victim. Attempts to reach the prosecutor and coroner in Will County on Sunday were not immediately successful.

The Illinois State Police said in a statement on Sunday that it was coordinating with other agencies “in response to the elevated level of threats of violence and hate crimes related to the current conflict.”

“Everyone in Illinois — both law enforcement and community members alike — must remain on guard against both terrorism and hate crimes during this period of volatility,” said Brendan Kelly, the State Police director.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, said in a statement that “to take a six-year-old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil.”

“Wadea should be heading to school in the morning,” the governor said. “Instead, his parents will wake up without their son.”

President Biden said in a statement on Sunday night that he was “shocked and sickened” by the attack.

“The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek — a refuge to live, learn and pray in peace,” he said. “This 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.”

CAIR officials said they had reviewed text messages, written in Arabic, that the boy’s mother sent to his father from the hospital. In those messages, CAIR officials said, the mother indicated that the landlord had been angry with what he was seeing on the news. The organization did not make the text messages available for review by news organizations.

According to CAIR’s account of the text messages, the landlord knocked on the family’s door, and when the mother opened it he tried to choke her and attacked her with a knife, yelling, “You Muslims must die!”

When she ran into the bathroom to call 911, the text messages say, she came out to find that he had stabbed her son.

“It all happened in seconds,” she texted, according to CAIR.

Rebecca Carballo contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.

Mitch Smith covers the Midwest and the Great Plains. Since joining The Times in 2014, he has written extensively about gun violence, oil pipelines, state-level politics and the national debate over police tactics. He is based in Chicago. More about Mitch Smith

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