WILL COUNTY, Ill. — A man accused of brutally killing a 6-year-old Muslim boy and seriously injuring his 32-year-old mother in unincorporated Plainfield Township is facing hate crime charges, according to the Will County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities say 71-year-old Joseph Czuba has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crime and two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Detectives say they were able to determine that both victims were allegedly targeted by the suspect due to their Muslim faith and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The charges stem from a violent attack that occurred at a home in the 16200 block of South Lincoln Highway, just after 11:35 a.m. on Saturday. Prosecutors allege that Czuba knocked on the victim’s door and started an argument about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
When the 32-year-old woman, later identified as Hanaan Shahin, stated she was Muslim, Czuba allegedly attacked her with a large blade.
Deputies entered the home and found the two victims, including a 6-year-old boy, identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume, who had suffered 26 stab wounds. He was transported in critical condition and died at the hospital.
His mother, Shahin, suffered over a dozen stab wounds and was transported in serious condition.
Responding officers located Czuba, who was sitting outside of the home. According to deputies, Czuba was found sitting upright near the driveway and had suffered a laceration to his forehead.
In his initial appearance Monday, the prosecution said Shahin was able to injure Czuba before getting away. She called 911 while hearing her son being stabbed in another room, prosecutors said.
During questioning, Czuba did not make any statements to authorities regarding his alleged involvement in the attack, but deputies say authorities were able to gather enough information through interviews and evidence to formally charge him.
In court Monday, detectives interviewed his wife and she said Czuba has been listening to conservative talk radio and felt the mother and son were going to call people over to attack them.
Czuba was detained by the court and his next appearance is scheduled for Oct. 30.
FBI Chicago announced Monday that they have opened a federal investigation into the hate crime.
President Joe Biden issued a statement on Sunday about the attack:
“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.“
Family members of the victims gathered on Sunday with support from leaders from the Chicago Office of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR).
Leaders say they are outraged after the young Palestinian-American boy was stabbed to death and his mother, who is recovering in the hospital, was stabbed over a dozen times. Leaders say the boy was an innocent bystander who fell victim to hate connected to the recent tensions between Israel and Hamas.
“He paid the price for the atmosphere of hate and otherization and dehumanization that, frankly, I think we are seeing here in the United States as a result of the irresponsible leadership and lopsided, one-sided statements and coverage that we are seeing in the media,” Ahmed Rehab, the Executive Director of the Chicago Office of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, said during a press conference on Sunday afternoon.
During the news conference, Wadea was described as loving toys, sports and coloring. He had just celebrated his sixth birthday.
CAIR officials say Wadea lived on the first floor of the home with his mother, Shahin, and family members say the two moved to the U.S. to escape settler violence.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker released a statement about the attack on Sunday evening:
“To take a six year child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil.
Wadea should be heading to school in the morning. Instead, his parents will wake up without their son. This wasn’t just a murder — it was a hate crime.
And every single Illinoisan — including our Muslin, Jewish and Palestinian neighbors — deserve to live free from the threat of such evil.
Today, MK and I join our Muslim and Palestinian brothers and sisters in mourning this tragic loss and praying for the recovery of Wadea’s mother. May Wadea Al-Fayoume’s memory be a blessing.“