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‘Mom, I’m fine’: Last words of six-year-old Palestinian-American boy who was stabbed to death in suspected hate crime | US News


A six-year-old Palestinian-American boy’s last words were “mom, I’m fine” after he was stabbed to death in a suspected hate crime in Illinois over the weekend, his uncle has said.

Mourners gathered for the funeral of Wadea al Fayoume on Monday, hours after the suspect made his initial appearance in court.

Police have said Wadea and his mother Hanaan Shahin, who is being treated in hospital after suffering “over a dozen stab wounds”, were targeted “due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and Israelis“.

They were attacked by their landlord on Saturday in Plainfield Township, Will County, about 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Chicago.

The boy was stabbed 26 times while Ms Shahin, 32, suffered multiple wounds. Ms Shahin was unable to attend the funeral while she is treated in hospital but is expected to survive.

Joseph Czuba, 71, who has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, had made an initial appearance at Will County Court hours before the funeral.

Wadea Al Fayoume's father, Oday Al Fayoume, right, hugs his uncle Mahmoud Yousef
Image:
Wadea al Fayoume’s father, Oday al Fayoume, right, hugs his uncle Mahmoud Yousef

‘It is something we’ve tried to warn against’

Mourners gathered for Wadea’s funeral at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, a community southwest of Chicago known as “Little Palestine” for its heavy concentration of Palestinian-Americans.

Mahmoud Yousef, Wadea’s uncle, said in a news conference outside the mosque: “He’s a six-year-old kid. As any other six-year-old kid, he likes to play games.

“He’s a very kind kid. He likes to jump up and down.”

Mr Yousef added: “We received a text message from his mom, that when he was stabbed, his last words to his mum: ‘Mom, I’m fine.’ You know what? He is fine. He’s in a better place.”

In the basement of the mosque, women and children huddled and cried during the news conference.

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Funeral held for six-year-old killed in alleged hate crime

Mourners place flowers at the grave of Wadea Al-Fayoume
Image:
Mourners place flowers at the grave of Wadea al Fayoume

Dozens were in attendance for the service including two men who waved Palestinian flags before the group chanted: “Free, Free Palestine.”

The killing comes against the backdrop of a fresh crisis in the Middle East after a deadly attack by Hamas militants on Israeli civilians a week ago and subsequent retaliation by Israel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The conflict has put Jewish and Palestinian Muslim communities in the United States on edge and fearful of a potential backlash against them.

Speaking after the attack on Wadea and his mother, Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said on Monday: “This is a heavy day. It is a worst nightmare come true. It is something we’ve tried to warn against.

“It pains me that the sacrificial lamb to this atmosphere was this beautiful young six-year-old boy.”

Mr Rehab added that Ms Shahin came from the West Bank to the United States 12 years ago and his father immigrated nine years ago.

Mourners gathered for the emotional funeral
Image:
Mourners gathered for the emotional funeral

Suspect appears in court

Czuba was appointed a public defender and did not enter a plea to the charges he faces during his court appearance.

Before the stabbings, there were no known issues or conflicts between Czuba and the family, CAIR said.

The boy’s father, Oday al Fayoume, told The Daily Beast that Czuba had a “good relationship” with the boy’s mother and son, having built a tree house for the small child outside the home they rented from him.

“He is an angel. Basically a small angel in the form of a person,” El-Fayoume said of his son.

“It is hard to picture this man holding a knife about to stab my son.”

The boy’s father received text messages from the child’s mother while she was hospitalized, describing the attack and identifying the assailant, Mr Rehab said.

He added: “He asked his wife … what happened,” Rehab said. “He knocked on the door and attempted to choke her and said, ‘You Muslims must die’ and stabbed her.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland late on Sunday said the US Justice Department would open a federal hate-crime
investigation into the attack.

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