Mourners in heavily Palestinian Chicago suburb remember Muslim boy killed as kind, energetic

This booking photo provided by the Will County Sheriff’s Office, in Joliet, Ill., shows Joseph M. Czuba. Authorities say Czuba has been charged with a hate crime, accused of fatally stabbing a young boy and seriously wounded a woman because of their Islamic faith and the Israel-Hamas war. (Will County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

This undated photo provided on Monday shows Wadea Al-Fayoume. (CAIR-Chicago/via AP)

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Crowds of mourners in a heavily Palestinian Chicago suburb paid respects Monday to a 6-year-old Muslim boy killed in an alleged hate crime, hours after authorities revealed new details about the evidence used to charge the family’s landlord with stabbing the child and his mother.

Wadea Al-Fayoume, who had recently had a birthday, died Saturday after being stabbed dozens of times in a brutal attack that drew condemnation from local elected officials to the White House. Authorities said the family’s landlord, Joseph Czuba, was upset over the Israel-Hamas war and attacked them after the boy’s mother proposed they “pray for peace.”

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In Bridgeview, which is home to a large and established Palestinian community, family and friends remembered Wadea as a kind and energetic boy who loved playing games. His body was carried in a small white casket — which was at times draped with a Palestinian flag — through packed crowds.

Mosque Foundation Imam Jamal Said reflected on the boy’s death during the janazah, or funeral service, but also the wider loss of life in the war between Israel and Hamas.

“Wadea is a child and he is not the only one under attack,” he said, adding many “children are being slaughtered literally in the Holy Land, unfortunately, which is very sad.”

Earlier Monday, Czuba made his first court appearance on murder, attempted murder and hate crime charges. In detailing the charges Sunday, the Will County Sheriff’s Office 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.”

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. The public defender’s office did not immediately return messages seeking comment about the charges against him.

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.’

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