Plainfield landlord charged with hate crime, murder in stabbing death of 6-year-old boy

Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6.

Plainfield Township — Editor’s note: An update on this story is available here.

A 6-year-old boy was killed after being stabbed 26 times, and his mother also was stabbed multiple times Saturday in an attack inside their Plainfield Township home, allegedly at the hands of their landlord because of their Islamic faith and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas, authorities said.

Joseph Czuba, 71, was charged with various offenses including murder and hate crime following the attack, according to the Will County Sheriff’s Office.

Joseph Czuba has been charged in the stabbing attack which took the life of a six-year-old boy on Oct. 14.

Authorities have not identified the victims, but the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post that it determined “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 Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference with family members on Sunday and identified the victims as Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian-American boy who had turned 6 earlier this month, and his mother Hanaan Shahin.

Ahmed Rehab, left, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations,  embraces Odey Al-Fayoume, father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6, at a news conference at the Muslim Community Center on Chicago's Northwest Side, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. Authorities say a 71-year-old Illinois man has been charged with a hate crime, accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old boy and seriously wounding a 32-year-old woman, in Plainfield Township, because of their Islamic faith and the Israel-Hamas war. The Council on American-Islamic Relations identified the victims as Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother.

They had lived on the ground floor of the house for two years, according to the organization, saying the suspect was their landlord. Citing text messages from the mother to the boy’s father, the suspect reportedly yelled, “You Muslims must die!” and attempted to choke her ahead of the stabbing, according to CAIR-Chicago.

The Muslim civil liberties organization called the crime “our worst nightmare,” and part of a disturbing spike in hate calls and emails since the outbreak of violence in the Middle East.

Both Shahin and her ex-husband, the boy’s father, were immigrants from Palestine arriving 12 and nine years ago respectively, though their son was born in the U.S. The boy’s father attended the news conference but did not speak to reporters because he was still in shock, a CAIR-Chicago official said.

According to a statement from the Will County Sheriff’s Office, a 32-year-old woman called for help at 11:38 a.m. Saturday saying that her landlord had attacked her with a knife. The woman said she had fought off her attacker and barricaded herself in the bathroom before dialing 911.

Officers from the sheriff’s office and Plainfield police responded to the home near the 16200 block of South Lincoln Highway and found Czuba sitting on the ground near the driveway with a laceration on his forehead.

Inside the home, police said they discovered the two victims both with multiple stab wounds on their chests, torsos, and upper extremities. Both victims and Czuba were transported to local hospitals for treatment.

The woman arrived in serious condition with more than a dozen stab wounds and was expected to recover from her injuries, police said. After arriving at the hospital in critical condition, the boy later died from his injuries.

An autopsy found that the 6-year-old boy had been stabbed 26 times throughout his body with a 12-inch serrated military-style knife that had a 7-inch blade. The knife was recovered by doctors when it was removed from the victim’s abdomen.

Oday Al-Fayoume, father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6, attends a news conference at the Muslim Community Center on Chicago's Northwest Side, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. Authorities say a 71-year-old Illinois man has been charged with a hate crime, accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old boy and seriously wounding a 32-year-old woman, in Plainfield Township, because of their Islamic faith and the Israel-Hamas war. The Council on American-Islamic Relations identified the victims as Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother.

After receiving treatment, Czuba was taken into custody by Will County sheriff’s deputies for questioning. Czuba was charged on Sunday with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two hate crime counts, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. The hate crime charges are due to detectives’ conclusion that both victims were targeted by the suspect because they are Muslim and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East between Hamas and Israel.

Czuba reportedly did not make any statement or answer questions during his interrogation, but police were able to gather enough physical evidence and information from other interviews to charge him in the attack.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office said there is no ongoing danger to the community and thanked the Plainfield Police Department and the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office for their assistance in investigating and bringing formal charges against Czuba for what it called “a senseless and cowardly act of violence.”

“Our hearts are heavy, and our prayers are with the darling boy and his mother,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago. “We have full confidence in the authorities to investigate this heinous incident as a hate crime and to do so swiftly.”

Rehab had issued a statement on Oct. 11 warning that “one-sided” discussions of the situation in Israel and Palestine from political and media figures could lead to increased violence against the Muslim community as it did in the weeks after 9/11. In the wake of the Plainfield attack, CAIR-Chicago said in a news release that it was renewing its call for responsible, balanced media coverage of the Middle East crisis.

When asked about the boy, Rehab said his father described him as “a 6-year-old boy who loved everything.”

“I asked him, ‘What did your son love?’ He said he loved everything. He loved everybody. He loved his toys. He loved anything with a ball – basketball, soccer. He loved to color. He loved to swing around. He loved his parents. He loved his family and friends,” Rehab said. “He loved life and he was looking forward to a long, healthy, prosperous life like your child, like my child, like any of us when we were children and he has no clue about these larger issues happening in the world.”

State, local leaders react

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant issued a statement expressing her condolences to the family. She also asked for residents to remain on high alert and urged residents to report any suspicious activity to the Will County Sheriff’s Office at 815-727-8575.

”Words can’t express how reprehensible this act of violence is. My heart breaks for the victims and their family,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “Illinois State Police is working with our local law enforcement to monitor any potential extremist activities following this horrendous hate crime.”

President Joe Biden released a statement on the attack Sunday, sending his condolences to the family and community.

“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,” Biden said in the statement. “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.

Gov. JB Pritzker also released a statement Sunday evening on the attack.

“To take a 6-year-old 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,” he said. “Every single Illinoisan – including Muslim, Jewish and Palestinian neighbors – deserves to live free from the threat of such evil. Today MK and I join 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.”

The Anti-Defamation League posted online its response to the attacks stating, “We’re disgusted and horrified that a 6-year-old boy was murdered and his mother was severely injured in #Plainfield, IL, allegedly because they are Muslim. We express our condolences to the Muslim community and categorically reject all anti-Muslim hate.”

“We are in the process of reaching out to leaders of the Muslim community in Plainfield and surrounding communities to express our horror and condolences, offer any assistance needed, and make clear that we categorically reject anti-Muslim hate in any form,” according to the ADL Midwest.

“The hate that fueled this senseless crime is appalling,” state Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel, D-Shorewood, said in a statement on Sunday. “I cannot comprehend how anyone could harm a child and his mother in their home due to their race or religion. My heart goes out to all who know and love this family.”

Loughran Cappel also said that her office would “provide support for those who need it” in the community in the wake of the crime.

The Illinois State Police issued a statement Sunday night stating that as the Israeli-Hamas conflict continues, the department “continues coordinating statewide law enforcement communications and activity in response to the elevated level of threats of violence and hate crimes related to the current conflict.”

The statement reminded the public to remain vigilant and report any potential hate crime or terrorist activity to authorities and reiterated its support for the Muslim and Jewish communities in Illinois which have been impacted by increased threats.

Although ISP says it is in regular communication with its local and federal law enforcement partners, at this time, it reports that there is “no actionable intelligence regarding any credible mass threats in Illinois.”

The Associated Press contributed.