Man targeted 6-year-old boy, mom in deadly Plainfield stabbing because they are Muslim: detectives

'You Muslims must die': 71-year-old Joseph M. Czuba facing hate crime charges in death of Palestinian boy Wadea Al-Fayoume

ByMichelle Gallardo, Maher Kawash, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Monday, October 16, 2023
Man targeted Muslim child, mother in deadly suburban stabbing: police
Joseph M. Czuba was charged in the Plainfield, IL murder of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, whose mother was also injured on South Lincoln Highway.

PLAINFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- A man stabbed a child to death and critically injured a woman in the southern suburbs on Saturday morning because they are Muslim, the Will County Sheriff's Office said on Sunday.

Joseph Czuba is being held at Will County's Adult Detention facility.

The charges against the suspect came down just before 2 p.m. Shortly after, the murdered boy's father came forward not just to share his heartbreak, but to speak out on what appears to be an act of hatred. His son and ex-wife are Palestinian.

Wadea Al-Fayoume's father shared one of the last pictures taken of the 6-year-old boy, who, just a couple of weeks ago, celebrated his birthday.

Wadea's life was brutally taken away on Saturday, when he was stabbed 26 times with a military-style knife at his unincorporated Plainfield home just before 11:40 a.m. Chopper 7 was over the scene in the 16200 block of South Lincoln Highway near Lily Cache Road.

Will County investigators said on Sunday that Wadea and his mother were attacked by their landlord, Joseph M. Czuba. The 71-year-old is now charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of committing a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Wadea's father said the boy and mother had rented the ground floor of Czuba's for the past two years, with no issues arising until Saturday.

"What we have is a murdered Palestinian child by someone who is radicalized by the environment in which we live right now, that casts Palestinians as human animals," said Ahmed Rehab, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago. "This person had no track record with the family. As a matter of fact, the father says he had built a treehouse for the boy, and allowed him to swim in a makeshift pool and brought him toys."

In announcing the charges, 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."

While investigators did not reveal their reasons for believing that, the president of the Council on Arab American Relations in Chicago stood alongside the murdered boy's father and described text messages sent to him by his ex-wife from the hospital, where she is still recovering from at least 12 stab wounds.

"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.

The 32-year-old mother is in serious condition, but is expected to survive, the sheriff's office said.

The victims' family said the mother left the West Bank and came to the U.S. 12 years ago in hopes of avoiding the violence that continues today overseas. Wadea was born in the U.S. On Sunday, his father was too shaken to speak, but was joined by local faith leaders who have been remembering the love the 6-year-old brought to those around him.

"He was a lovely boy who loved his family his friends. He loved soccer, basketball, and he paid the price for the atmosphere of hate," Rehab said.

Now, the faith leaders and Illinois 21st District Rep. Abdel Nasser Rashid are calling on all Americans to stand for peace regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

"I know there's gonna be people who say, 'We condemn this heinous crime,' who will say, 'Hate has no home here.' That's not enough," Rashid said.

"I tell our community: Remember our values. Stick to them. Do not let any difficult conditions to renege on the contract we have with God almighty to be just, upright people. Stand with human life," Rehab said.

Investigators said Czuba 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. He will remain at the detention facility until his initial court appearance, which the state's attorney said will happen at 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet.

As is standard with Muslim tradition, the funeral will happen immediately for Wadea. It's planned for Monday.

President Joe Biden released a statement on Sunday evening, saying:

Jill and I were shocked and sickened to learn of the brutal murder of a six-year-old child and the attempted murder of the child's mother in their home yesterday in Illinois.

The child's Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek-a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace.

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.

As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred. I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate. We must be unequivocal. There is no place in America for hate against anyone.

We join everyone here at the White House in sending our condolences and prayers to the family, including for the mother's recovery, and to the broader Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American communities.

Gov. JB Pritzker also released a statement following the crime, saying, in part, "To take a six-year-old child's life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil... Every single Illinoisan - including our Muslim, Jewish, and Palestinian neighbors -deserves to live free from the threat of such evil."

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth also spoke out, saying, "I'm disgusted by this horrific violent hate crime that targeted an innocent Illinois mother and child because they are Muslim."

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin released a statement as well, saying, "My heart is broken hearing the news of the gruesome murder of 6-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al-Fayoume. And my prayers are with his mother, Hanaan Shahin, as she recovers from more than a dozen stab wounds and the reality of the loss of her sweet boy."