CHICAGO (AP) — A 71-year-old Illinois landlord upset over the Israel-Hamas war attacked a Palestinian American woman with a knife when she proposed they “pray for peace” and killed her 6-year-old son, authorities said Monday.
The details emerged as Joseph Czuba appeared in court on murder, attempted murder and hate crime charges while the boy’s Muslim family prepared to bury him in the Chicago area.
“It is with heavy hearts that we acknowledge this senseless act of hate, which has no place in our community or any society,” said the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, where a funeral was held.
Czuba, a Plainfield resident, replied, “Yes, sir,” when asked if he understood the charges and was subsequently returned to jail in Joliet, 50 miles (80.4 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. A Will County judge granted a court-appointed lawyer.
Wadea Al-Fayoume, who had just turned 6, had been stabbed multiple times when sheriff’s deputies discovered him Saturday in response to a 911 call.
“Detectives were able to determine that 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 sheriff’s office said.
The boy’s mother told investigators that she rents two rooms on the first floor of the Plainfield home while Czuba and his wife live on the second floor, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Fitzgerald said in a court filing.
“He was angry at her for what was going on in Jerusalem,” Fitzgerald said. “She responded to him, ‘Let’s pray for peace.’ … Czuba then attacked her with a knife.”
The boy’s mother fought him off and went into a bathroom where she stayed until police arrived. Wadea, meanwhile, was in his own room, Fitzgerald said.
The mother was identified by family members as Hanaan Shahin, 32, though authorities used a different spelling for her name as well as her son’s name.
“The brutality of the attack, which involved a military-grade knife, has shocked us all,” the Mosque Foundation said.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wadea should have been attending school Monday, yet his “parents will wake up without their son.”
Jewish and Muslim groups have reported an increase of hateful rhetoric in the wake of the war.
“We are not animals, we are humans,” said the boy’s uncle, Yousef Hannon. “We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans.”
Police found Czuba with a cut on his forehead, sitting on the ground outside the home. The public defender’s office did not immediately return messages seeking comment about the charges against him.
Czuba’s wife, Mary, told police that her husband feared they would be attacked by people of Middle Eastern descent and had withdrawn $1,000 from a bank “in case the U.S. grid went down,” Fitzgerald said in the court document.
The Justice Department said it opened a hate crime investigation into the attack.
“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,” President Joe Biden said.