Authorities in suburban Chicago charged a man with fatally stabbing a 6-year-old boy and critically wounding the boy’s mother on Saturday because they were Muslims, an attack that officials linked to violence in Israel and Gaza.
The killing in Illinois upset Muslim leaders, who called on American politicians and journalists to more fully reflect the humanity of the Palestinian people when dealing with the conflict abroad.
“This was directly related to the dehumanization of the Palestinians,” said Abdelnasser Rashid, a Democratic Illinois state representative who is Palestinian-American.
Investigators in Will County, Ill., southwest of Chicago, described a bloody scene. They said the 71-year-old landlord turned on the boy and his mother, who were his tenants, at their Plainfield Township home Saturday morning, stabbing them multiple times with a serrated knife with a seven-inch blade.
The boy, identified by a family member and the Council on American-Islamic Relations as Wade Al-Fayouma, 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 the bathroom and continued to fight the attacker while calling 911. Relatives said the family is Palestinian-American.
The Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Sunday that “detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect because they are Muslim and because of the ongoing Middle East conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.” The statement did not say how the investigators knew about the motive, but it was stated that they conducted interviews and reviewed other evidence.
The man accused of the attack, Joseph M. Czuba, 71, is being held on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Mr. Czuba was scheduled to make his first court appearance in Will County on Monday, according to online records. It is not clear if he has hired a lawyer.
Saturday’s attack came amid escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. On October 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel that killed more than 1,300 Israelis, prompting intense retaliation that killed 2,670 people in Gaza, according to Gaza officials. Across the Middle East, there is a growing fear of the conflict spreading and the humanitarian crisis worsening.
The Chicago suburb has a large Palestinian-American community, including an area with many Arab restaurants and shops that some call Little Palestine. The attack happened in another part of suburban Chicago, at a home along a busy stretch of freeway near a Chevrolet dealership and a barbecue restaurant. The property, about 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, was decorated with several American flags, an advertisement for organic honey and a sign asking people to end abortion.
Mariola Jagodzinski, who lives two houses away, said she never had a negative interaction with the suspect. She said she gave the toys to the mother of six-year-old Wadee and was left speechless and upset when she heard about the murder.
“He was a playful kid – really full of energy,” Ms Jagodzinski said. “Children are innocent. This really breaks so many hearts.”
On Sunday, the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim human rights and advocacy organization, condemned the stabbing and called it “our worst nightmare.”
“Our hearts are heavy and our prayers are with the dear boy and his mother,” Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, said in a statement.
Authorities have not confirmed the names of any victims. Attempts to reach the Will County prosecutor and coroner were not immediately successful Sunday.
Illinois State Police said in a statement Sunday that they were coordinating with other agencies “in response to an elevated level of threats of violence and hate crimes related to the current standoff.”
“Everyone in Illinois – both law enforcement and community members – must remain vigilant against both terrorism and hate crimes during this period of instability,” said Brendan Kelly, director of state police.
Gov. JB Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, said in a statement that “taking the life of a six-year-old child in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil.”
“Wadea should start school in the morning,” the governor said. “Instead, his parents will wake up without their son.”
President Biden said in a statement 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 haven to live, learn and pray in peace,” he said. “This horrific act of hate has no place in America and goes against our core values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe and who we are.”
CAIR officials said they reviewed text messages, written in Arabic, sent by the boy’s mother to his father from the hospital. In those messages, CAIR officials said, the mother indicated the landlord was angry about what he had seen 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 strangle 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 her son had been stabbed.
“Everything happened in a matter of seconds,” she wrote, according to CAIR.
Rebecca Carballo contributed to the reporting. Jack Begg contributed to the research.