Authorities: Landlord who killed 6-year-old boy 'heavily interested' in Middle East events

Just before fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy in Plainfield Township on Saturday, the family's landlord argued with the boy's mother about the Israel-Hamas war, authorities said.

"Let's pray for peace," the woman told the landlord, according to prosecutors.

Instead, the landlord, Joseph Czuba, began attacking the woman, authorities said. The woman, who also is Muslim, escaped to a bathroom, locked the door, and called the police. She was unable to get her son, who was in one of the bedrooms.

Authorities said Czuba stabbed the 6-year-old boy, identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume, 26 times. A forensic pathologist removed the serrated military-style knife with a seven-inch blade from the boy's abdomen, authorities said.

"She could hear her son being stabbed," Will County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Fitzgerald said during a detention hearing on Monday.

Will County Judge Donald DeWilkins denied pretrial release for Czuba, a 71-year-old man from Plainfield Township. Czuba is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one charge of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of hate crime.

Czuba appeared in court for his pretrial hearing Monday as the U.S. Department of Justice opened a hate crime investigation into the events leading up to 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 in a statement.

FBI Director Chris Wray said on a call with reporters Sunday that the FBI is also moving quickly to mitigate the threats.

A senior FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Bureau said the majority of the threats that the FBI has responded to were not judged to be credible, adding that the FBI takes them all seriously nonetheless.

In his ordering Czuba's pre-trial detention Monday, DeWilkins said he considered Czuba a “real and present” threat not only to the woman, identified as Haanan Shahin, but also to the community at large.

Czuba, who was represented by the Will County Public Defender's Office, told the judge he understood the charges against him and that he could face more than 60 years in prison if convicted. He also said he plans to appeal the judge's ruling detaining him. His next scheduled court date is Oct. 30.

Shahin told authorities she had rented two rooms from Czuba and his wife in their house near the 16200 block of South Lincoln Highway for the last two years, Fitzgerald said.

According to Fitzgerald, Shahin told police that Czuba, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1969-1973, was an “angry man” who yelled at her and his wife.

On the day of the stabbing, Czuba told Shahin, a Palestinian-American, that he blamed her for the conflict in Israel, Fitzgerald said.

Czuba's wife told authorities that her husband had been listening to conservative talk news programs and was "heavily interested" in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Fitzgerald said.

On Wednesday, he told his wife that Shahin and her son had to move out, Fitzgerald said.

“(His wife) advised Joe believed that they were in danger and that Hanaan was going to call over her Palestinian friends or family to harm them,” Fitzgerald outlined in a petition to deny Czuba's pretrial release.

Czuba also withdrew $1,000 cash “in case the U.S. grid went down” and told his wife that something was going to happen on Saturday, but would not give her details, Fitzgerald said.

When police arrived at the house, they found Czuba in his yard. He sat up and put his hands behind his back for police but did not make any statements, according to the petition to deny pretrial release. Police removed a knife holster found on Czuba's belt and several pocketknives located by his feet, according to the petition.

While authorities continued their investigation, family, friends and political leaders gathered Monday for the boy's funeral at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview.

The young boy could “fathom nothing about the complicated politics of the world that seemed to have claimed his life in a moment of madness,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR officials said text messages the mother sent to the boy's father from the hospital indicate Czuba tried to choke her when she first opened the door. The texts state Czuba then attacked her with a knife and yelled, “You Muslims must die!” Will County Sheriff's investigators could not confirm that statement.

“This was an attack on all of us,” Rehab said. “When this individual said, 'You Muslims must die,' this was a message not to the boy and the mother. This was to all of us.”

Wadea loved soccer, basketball and Legos, Rehab said. His mother remains in the hospital with “serious bodily injuries” and faces the emotional trauma of the attack.

Plainfield Village President John Argoudelis said a community vigil is planned for 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Plainfield Park District's Prairie Activity and Recreation Center, 24550 W. Renwick Road in Plainfield.

“All of Plainfield stands together as a community and as Americans — repulsed by human evil and hate,” Argoudelis, who attended Monday's funeral with other state and local political leaders, wrote on his Facebook page. “We mourn young Wadea. We can't fathom losing you at such a tender age. We pray for his mother, father and family to have strength and we stand with you.”

Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 Superintendent Glenn Wood said the violent death of one of their students was devastating and expressed condolences to the family. Wood said grief counseling services have been made available to students and staff.

"I can only imagine the trauma the current events have, and will, place on our students and families of Palestinian, Muslim and Israeli descent in the coming days," he said, adding that the district has done significant work with cultural competency in recent years.

"Bigotry and hate have no place in our schools and while we attempt to focus on what goes on inside our schools, our students are very much impacted by what happens outside of the learning environment," he added.

An account has been established to assist the family with funeral, hospital and housing expenses. Additional information can be found at

• Staff writer Katlyn Smith and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Sunday identified Wadea Al-Fayoume as the 6-year-old Plainfield Township boy killed Saturday in what authorities are calling a hate crime. Courtesy of CAIR-Chicago
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