Unincorp. Plainfield stabbing: New details about murder of 6-year-old Muslim boy revealed in court

'You Muslims must die': 71-year-old Joseph Czuba to remain behind bars, faces hate crime charges in murder of Wadea Al-Fayoume

ByJessica D'Onofrio, Michelle Gallardo, Eric Horng, and Rob Hughes and Jasmine Minor WLS logo
Tuesday, October 17, 2023
New details about murder of 6-year-old Muslim boy revealed in court
Joseph Czuba was in court after being charged in the Unincorp. Plainfield murder of Wadea Al-Fayoume in the 16200-block of South Lincoln Highway.

PLAINFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- The 6-year-old suburban boy stabbed to death in an apparent hate crime over the weekend was laid to rest on Monday, in Muslim tradition.

Landlord Joseph Czuba stabbed Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother, 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin, in unincorporated Plainfield Saturday morning because they are Muslim, the Will County Sheriff's Office said.

Al-Fayoume's uncle, Mahmoud Yousef, spoke for the boy's family at a press conference before the funeral prayer on Monday afternoon.

The boy's father, Odey Al-Fayoume, also spoke, but only in his native language.

"A 71-year old man, sitting up on top of a 6-year-old kid, stabbing him more than 26 times, and he was looking in his eyes," Yousef said.

"He's a 6-year-old kid. As any other 6-year-old kid, he likes to play games," Yousef said. "He's a very kind kid. He likes to jump up and down."

The boy's funeral and the circumstances behind his tragic death came in the midst of war in the Middle East.

"The gentleman heard it. It was in his mind. The only thing he saw. He saw that kid and his mom," Yousef said. "I just want to tell the whole world that we live in a country called USA. We're not at war, and we're not bringing war here, too."

Many Pro-Palestinian and Muslim faith leaders placed the blame for this crime on the shoulders of President Joe Biden, U.S. support for Israel and the media's coverage of the war.

"This heinous crime did not take place in a vacuum," said Osama Abuirshaid, executive director of the American Muslims for Palestine.

Inside the mosque, hundreds bowed their heads in prayer.

A funeral was held for Wadea Al-Fayoume, the unincorp. Plainfield boy killed in an alleged hate crime stabbing.

The service, overall, was brief. The mosque was so packed that it overflowed outdoors.

"We received a text message from his mom, that when he was stabbed, his last words to his mom: 'Mom, I'm fine.' You know what? He is fine. He's in a better place," Yousef said.

Community members lingered, and while there was shared grief for this young boy, the signs of conflict overseas permeated the funeral.

"The fear for one's life, for one's children's lives, from these sorts of attacks. On the other hand, we really have to keep things in perspective, because, we see that the children and the men and women that are in Gaza and Palestine are facing death every minute every second," said high school teacher and community member Deanna Othman. "All of these things whether consciously or subconsciously affect the way that we view people, and the way that we view people has real-life consequences."

The victims had rented Czuba's ground floor in the 16200-block of South Lincoln Highway near Lily Cache Road for the past two years, with no issues arising until Saturday, according to family.

New details about alleged hate crime revealed in court

Joseph Czuba, charged in a deadly Plainfield stabbing, will remain behind bars.

Details about the crime released in court on Monday painted a picture of a man angry over the current conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Middle East. In the days prior to this violent attack, it seemed, the suspect had become paranoid and worried about his own safety.

Czuba, 71, appeared in Will County court Dressed in a red jumpsuit, shackled with his hair unkempt as he faced a judge for the first time. He has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and two counts of committing a hate crime.

When asked if he understood the charges and the time he faces for each charge, he replied, "Yes, sir."

Prosecutors in court said Czuba confronted Shahin over what was going on in the Middle East, and then an argument turned physical. Assistant State's Attorney Michael Fitzgerald recounted the mother's statements to police.

"Czuba was angry at her over what was going on in Jerusalem. She responded by saying, 'Let's pray for peace.' He didn't give her time. He then attacked her with a knife," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald then added that Czuba's wife, who was not home during the attack, stated that her husband wanted them to move out.

"He believed they were in danger, and she was going to call her Palestinian friends over to harm them," Fitzgerald said.

Shahin was stabbed 12 times, and remains hospitalized in serious condition. Al-Fayoume died after suffering 26 stab wounds from a military-style knife, officials said.

In announcing the charges against Czuba, the Will County Sheriff's Office called the crime "senseless" and "cowardly," saying, in part, "Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis."

Late Sunday, the Chicago FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois said they have opened a federal investigation into the killing.

ABC7's legal analyst, Gil Soffer, explained why the federal government is getting involved.

"It really means that the federal government sees the same case and has the same interest in the case as the state. The feds want to pursue this, the feds see a right that's been violated, rights that need to be vindicated, and it wants in the same game," Soffer said. "It's not double jeopardy. And, we'll see that sometimes, that the Department of Justice bringing charges on hate crimes even where the states are involved, because it's a serious enough case and because the Department of Justice wants to send a message that it will not tolerate hate, especially violent hate crimes."

He said it isn't a certainty that federal charges will be filed, but he believes it's likely.

"It's likely, based on the facts as we know them so far. The most challenging part of a civil rights case like this is to prove intent. Given the statements that we hear were made by this defendant, it seems the case can be brought by the department, and it's got a pretty strong one," Soffer said.

The family said the Shahin left the West Bank to come to the U.S. 12 years ago, in hopes of avoiding the violence that continues today overseas.

The president of the Council on Arab American Relations in Chicago stood alongside the murdered boy's father Sunday and described text messages sent to him by his ex-wife from the hospital, where she is still recovering.

"He knocked on the door and that he attempted to choke her, and said, 'you Muslims must die,' and attempted to stab her, and stabbed her. And, she went to the bathroom and called 911. And, this was all in her own words," Rehab said.

Investigators said Czuba, who is an Air Force veteran, has not provided a statement to police, but they believe they have enough physical evidence, as well as witness statements to back up the charges filed.

Czuba is being held at the Will County Adult Detention facility pending his trial and chose to be represented by a public defender. If convicted, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Deadly stabbing sends shockwaves through Muslim community

The community of Muslims in the Chicago suburbs said they feel as unsafe as ever in the wake of the deadly stabbing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume.

In the wake of Wadea Al-Fayoume's death, some in the Muslim community who attended his funeral services said this is the most unsafe they've ever felt.

"This goes to show that we can't even feel safe when the majority of us are Arabs and Muslims." Said Layla Hedroug.

"To murder a child while yelling, 'All Muslims should die,' that is vile, it's sick and it's unfair," said Dalia Ali. "That death was fueled by misinformation."

"Do not make the same mistakes that America made, that we made, in 9/11, where mischaracterized a whole group of people," said Maaria Mozaffar of the Muslim Civic Coalition.

The Anti-Defamation League said Jewish organization have widely denounced the attack on Wadea's family and anti-Muslim hate as the organization condemns the act.

"The idea that somebody watches a media story and becomes indoctrinated in some form or fashions and thinks that's the way you can support Israel is by killing a Muslim? That's wrong," said David Goldenberg, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Midwest.

Meanwhile the community is grieving a loss of their own and trying to find the right words to provide strength for the mother who is still holding on.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said: "I am heartbroken by the abhorrent killing of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six year old child who died after being stabbed 26 times with a military-style knife. On behalf of the entire Justice Department, I want to express my deepest condolences to his family and his community as they grieve his loss.

The Justice Department has opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the events leading to the tragic death of Wadea Al-Fayoume and the serious injuries suffered by his mother, Hanaan Shahin. The Department is limited in what more it can say because this is an ongoing criminal investigation.

This incident cannot help but further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence. The Department of Justice is focused on protecting the safety and the civil rights of every person in this country. We will use every legal authority at our disposal to bring to justice those who perpetrate illegal acts of hate. No one in the United States of America should have to live in fear of violence because of how they worship or where they or their family come from."

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson also released a statement, saying: "I am devastated by the murder of a six-year-old Palestinian American, Wadea Al-Fayoume, and the attempted murder of his mother in Plainfield, Illinois. This despicable hate crime is a shameful reminder of the destructive role Islamophobia plays in our society.

"We grieve alongside his family and the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities in our state as we reckon with this unthinkable loss. We also pray for his mother's recovery. We will never forget Wadea who was taken from us much too soon. May God rest his soul in eternal peace and may peace reign here on Earth."

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas released a statement, saying, "Saturday, in Plainfield Township near Chicago, Illinois, a 6-year-old Palestinian Muslim boy was horrifically and heartbreakingly stabbed to death. His mother was severely injured in the same attack.

"There is no humane world that can and should tolerate the murder of an innocent child because of his identity. The tragic events in the Middle East, begun by the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas, have brought ideologies of hate to the fore across the world - notably antisemitism and Islamophobia. This must end. The diversity and inclusiveness that define America must prevail.

"Our Department condemns violence, including and especially violence born of hate, and we will continue to work every day to prevent it."

Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement: "Doug and I grieve with the family of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian-American Muslim child who was stabbed to death on Saturday. We also pray for the recovery of Wadea's mother, Hanaan Shahin, who was stabbed 12 times in the same attack. The Department of Justice has announced a hate crimes investigation.

"Hate has no place in America. We unequivocally condemn hate and Islamophobia and stand with the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American communities. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue working to protect our communities against hate and senseless violence."

Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, at which Al-Fayoume was a student, said in a statement: "We send our deepest condolences to the family and our District 202 community on the devastating loss of our student.

"Social work and grief counseling is available today and we will continue to provide support services to our students and staff in the coming days. Our staff will keep a close eye on students for any signs of emotional distress which will be addressed and supported.

"District 202 has done significant work with Cultural Competency throughout the years, however, emotions can run high in the community in times such as these. While we attempt to focus on what goes on inside our schools, our students are very much impacted by what happens outside of the learning environment.

"District leadership is confident that building administration and staff will continue to treat all students with mutual respect by modeling an inclusive environment in our classrooms and workplaces.

"Safety of all our students is paramount to Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202. We continue to implement our school level safety plans including increased monitoring of student and staff interactions.

"Bigotry and hate have no place in our schools."