Vigil held to honor slain Muslim boy as accused attacker appears in court in Illinois


JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois man charged with murder, attempted murder and a hate crime in an October attack on a Palestinian American mother and her young son appeared at a pretrial hearing Wednesday as community members gathered outside the courthouse in support of the child’s family.

Joseph Czuba, 71, is accused of fatally stabbing of 6-year-old Wadee Alfayoumi and wounding Hanan Shaheen on Oct. 14 in in Plainfield, Illinois, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Shaheen survived the attack but was hospitalized during her son’s funeral. She has since been discharged.

Shaheen told police that Czuba, their landlord, was upset over the Israel-Hamas war and attacked them after she urged him to “pray for peace.” An autopsy showed the boy had been stabbed dozens of times.

An attorney for his father provided the spelling of the boy’s name as Wadee Alfayoumi. At the time he was killed, the boy’s name was reported as Wadea Al-Fayoume.

Authorities said the victims were targeted because of their Muslim faith and as a response to the war, which began a week before the attack.

A few dozen members of the Chicago-area Muslim community gathered outside the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Illinois, before Czuba’s hearing Wednesday morning. They held up white electric candles.

Wadee’s father, Odai Alfayoumi, addressed reporters in Arabic and a translator then repeated his statement in English.

“My son was a remarkable child,” Alfayoumi said. “He was filled with dreams and aspirations. He loved basketball, soccer and Legos. He carried the bright light of hope wherever he went and was always smiling. But that light was tragically taken from us far too soon. His life was cut short by an act of Islamophobia that has left us all stunned and heartbroken.”

Alfayoumi said he wants Czuba to face the “maximum amount” of responsibility, adding that his son “deserves nothing less than that.” He said people must remember that Wadee was targeted for his Muslim faith.

“We must stand together, Muslims and non-Muslims, and condemn all forms of hatred, hatred and discrimination,” he said.

Czuba remained silent during the hearing, which lasted only a few minutes. His next scheduled court date is the morning of March 7.

The county public defender’s office did not immediately return messages requesting comment about the case and vigil. ___

Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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