Authorities say a 71-year-old Plainfield man fatally stabbed a 6-year-old boy and inflicted serious wounds on a 32-year-old woman at their home Saturday, targeting them because of their Muslim faith and the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Joseph M. Czuba is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, Will County sheriff’s police said Sunday.
Czuba was in custody Sunday at the Will County jail awaiting his first court appearance.
Authorities did not release the victims’ names, but the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations identified them as Hanaan Shahin and her son, Wadea Al-Fayoume, and described them as Palestinian Americans.
“Our hearts are heavy, and our prayers are with the darling boy and his mother,” Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, said in a written statement. “As we await the official investigation of the local authorities, what we can confirm at the moment is that we have a murdered child in his own home, a 6-year who had just celebrated his birthday a couple of weeks ago, and a mother lying in the hospital in serious condition, both stabbed over a dozen times.”
Sheriff’s police said deputies were sent to the residence near the 16200 block of South Lincoln Highway in Plainfield Township at approximately 11:38 a.m. Saturday, after the woman called 911 saying her landlord had attacked her with a knife.
Deputies found the boy and the woman in a bedroom, both suffering from stab wounds to their chest, torso and upper extremities, according to the sheriff’s office.
The boy, who authorities said was stabbed 26 times, was taken to a hospital in critical condition and later died from his injuries. During an autopsy Sunday, a forensic pathologist removed a serrated military-style knife with a seven-inch blade from the boy’s abdomen, authorities said.
The woman, who said she made the 911 call from a bathroom as she fought off her attacker, was taken in serious condition to a hospital with more than a dozen stab wounds. She is expected to recover, sheriff’s police said.
CAIR officials said text messages the mother sent to the boy’s father from the hospital indicate an assailant knocked their door and tried to choke her when she opened it. The texts state the man then attacked her with a knife while yelling “you Muslims must die!”
After running into the bathroom to call 911, she came out to find the boy had been stabbed, the texts state, according to CAIR officials.
“He was a lovely boy,” Rehab said. “He loved his family, his friends. He loved soccer. He loved basketball.”
Speaking through Rehab as a translator, the boy’s father, Oday Al-Fayoume, said he hopes to see accountability for his son’s life being taken too soon.
Authorities said they located Czuba near the driveway of the victims’ home, sitting upright with a laceration to his forehead. He was treated at a hospital before being taken to the Will County Sheriff’s Office Public Safety Complex, according to the sheriff’s office.
Czuba did not make any statements regarding his involvement in the attack, sheriff’s police said. However, the sheriff’s office said enough information had been gathered through interviews and evidence to charge Czuba.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement Sunday evening saying the organization is “disgusted and horrified” by the boy’s slaying.
“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,” the statement reads.
Will County Executive also issued a statement asking residents to remain alert and inform law enforcement if they become aware of anyone threatening others.
Words can’t express how reprehensible this act of violence is,” the statement reads. “My heart breaks for the victims and their family.”