'The Smallest Coffins Are the Heaviest'

Biden condemns 'sickening' murder of 6-year-old Palestinian American boy
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2023 12:57 PM CDT
Biden Condemns 'Sickening' Murder of Muslim Boy, 6
Oday Al-Fayoume, right, the father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, rubs his face while Wadea's uncle Yousef Hannon speaks at the Muslim Community Center on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.   (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP)

An Illinois landlord accused of stabbing a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy to death could face federal charges as well as state hate crime charges. Joseph Czuba, 71, was due in court Monday as family members prepared to bury Wadea Al-Fayoume, who was stabbed 26 times Saturday morning in an attack that also seriously injured his mother. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said he was "heartbroken by the abhorrent killing," ABC7 reports. He said the Justice Department has opened a federal hate crimes investigation.

  • Mother still hospitalized. Wadea's funeral was scheduled for Monday at a mosque in suburban Chicago, but his mother is still hospitalized with 12 stab wounds, the New York Times reports. "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. He said the boy's mother "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."

  • Police say Czuba was angry about Hamas attack. The Will County Sheriff's Office said detectives determined 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." Rehab said the landlord "knocked on the door and that he attempted to choke her, and said, 'you Muslims must die,' and attempted to stab her, and stabbed her." Rehab said she fled to the bathroom to call 911, and emerged to find Czuba stabbing her son.
  • Charges include first-degree murder. Police say Czuba, who allegedly used a military-style knife with a 7-inch blade, was found sitting outside the Plainfield residence with a cut on his forehead. He has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon
  • Biden "sickened" by attack. President Biden said he was "sickened" to hear of the attack, the Washington Post reports. "The child's Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek—a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace," he said in a statement. The killing, he said, "stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are."

  • "Dehumanization" of Palestinians blamed. Rehab said the dehumanization of Palestinians in media narratives was partly to blame, the Chicago Tribune reports. "I ask you: What level of blind hatred can cause such an act? And for us to reflect under which conditions such an act can occur," he said. Rehab said the mother and son had lived on the home's ground floor for two years without incident, with Czuba even buying toys for the boy and building a treehouse for him. "This atmosphere has created a monster out of a normal man who once built a treehouse," he said.
  • Wadea turned 6 earlier this month. Relatives say Wadea was born in the US. They say his parents came to the US from the West Bank around 10 years ago and were later divorced. Uncle Yousef Hannon says Wadea turned 6 less than two weeks before he was murdered. "We are not animals, we are humans. We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans," Hannon, who worked as a public school teacher after coming to the US in 1999, tells the AP.
(More hate crime stories.)

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