Funeral Planned for Illinois Boy Killed in Suspected Anti-Muslim Hate Crime

A Palestinian American family in Illinois was preparing on Monday for the funeral of a 6-year-old boy who the authorities said was stabbed to death in an attack motivated by hate for Muslims and the fighting in Israel and Gaza.

A funeral for the boy, Wadea Al-Fayoume, was scheduled for Monday afternoon at a mosque in suburban Chicago. The killing of Wadea on Saturday drew condemnations from President Biden and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, as well as outpourings of grief from Muslim leaders across the country, many of whom saw the attack as an outgrowth of overheated rhetoric about the fighting overseas.

Wadea’s mother, who was seriously injured in the attack, was still recovering and would not be able to attend the funeral, a local Muslim leader said.

“This is a heavy day that we hoped would never come. As they say, the smallest coffins are the heaviest,” said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The boy’s mother, he added, “will be feeling Wadea’s loss more than anyone, but she is forced to mourn alone rather in the warm embrace of family and community at this time.”

American Muslims reacted in horror on Sunday when the authorities in Will County, Ill., said that they had arrested the family’s landlord in the attack and that they believed anti-Muslim bias motivated the stabbings. Many Muslim leaders had previously criticized how politicians from both parties had discussed the violence in Israel and Gaza, and had voiced frustration about how the conflict had been framed in the American media.

Since the charges were announced, officials in Illinois and Washington swiftly issued statements condemning the attack. Mr. Biden said that he was “shocked and sickened” and that “this horrific act of hate has no place in America.” Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, said that “to take a 6-year-old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil.” Mr. Garland announced a federal hate crimes investigation and said that “this incident cannot help but further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence.”

“No one in the United States of America should have to live in fear of violence because of how they worship or where they or their family come from,” he added.

Wadea Al-FayoumeCredit…CAIR National

The man accused in the attack, Joseph M. Czuba, 71, was being held on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Mr. Czuba was scheduled to make an initial court appearance in Will County on Monday, according to online records. It was not clear whether he had hired a lawyer.

According to the sheriff’s office, the boy was stabbed 26 times with a serrated knife that had a seven-inch blade and was pronounced dead at a hospital. The boy’s mother, 32, was in serious condition with more than a dozen stab wounds, officials said. Officials said she ran into a bathroom and continued fighting off the attacker as she dialed 911. The family is Palestinian American, relatives said.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Sunday that “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 statement did not specify how investigators knew the motive, but said they had conducted interviews and reviewed other evidence.

The assault on Saturday came amid mounting violence between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel that left more than 1,300 Israelis dead, prompting intense retaliation that has killed 2,750 people in Gaza, according to officials there. Across the Middle East, fears of a widening conflict and worsening humanitarian crisis are mounting.

Within the United States, Muslim and Jewish congregations have stepped up security and law enforcement officials have said they were monitoring for potential hate crimes and other attacks.

Yousef Hannon, the uncle of Wadea, spoke at a news conference at the Muslim Community Center in Chicago.Credit…Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

Brendan Kelly, the director of the Illinois State Police, said everyone in his state “must remain on guard against both terrorism and hate crimes during this period of volatility.”

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the federal homeland security secretary, said, “There is no humane world that can and should tolerate the murder of an innocent child because of his identity.”

“The tragic events in the Middle East, begun by the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas, have brought ideologies of hate to the fore across the world — notably antisemitism and Islamophobia,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “This must end.”

Suburban Chicago has a large Palestinian American community, including an area with many Arab restaurants and shops that some refer to as Little Palestine. The attack on Saturday happened in a different part of the Chicago suburbs, in a home along a busy stretch of highway near a Chevrolet dealership and a barbecue restaurant. That property in Plainfield Township, about 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, was adorned with several American flags, an advertisement for organic honey and a sign asking people to pray to end abortion.

Mariola Jagodzinski, who lives two houses away, said she had never had any negative interactions with the suspect. She said she had given toys to the mother of Wadea, the 6-year-old, and was speechless and distressed when she heard about the killing.

“He was a playful child — really full of energy,” Ms. Jagodzinski said. “Kids are innocent. This really destroys so many hearts.”

Robert Chiarito and Johnny Diaz contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.

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