The Chicago landlord suspected of stabbing a Palestinian-American six-year-old 26 times had a “good” relationship with the boy and her mother before the killing, the child’s father told The Daily Beast on Sunday.
Joseph Czuba, 71, was arrested after Illinois police said he “brutally attacked” his Palestinian-American tenant and her young child, Wadea Al-Fayoume, with a knife on Saturday, with local community leaders alleging he screamed anti-Muslim slurs as he stabbed them dozens of times.
The Will County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Sunday that the suspect, Czuba, had been charged with a hate crime over the assault. Czuba was also charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated battery.
“He is an angel. Basically a small angel in the form of a person. To this minute, I cannot believe how this could have happened,” the father, Oday El-Fayoume, told The Daily Beast. “My ex-wife and son knew him, and they had a good relationship. It is hard to picture this man holding a knife about to stab my son. I keep thinking that my son was probably running towards him before getting stabbed, trying to give him a hug.”
Police said that Czuba’s tenant, a 32-year-old woman, had called 911 on Saturday morning, saying she was hiding from her assailant in her bathroom. Deputies arrived on the scene at her home in Plainfield, a Chicago suburb, to find Czuba sitting outside. The woman was found inside and hospitalized with more than a dozen stab wounds. She is recovering from her injuries and is expected to survive.
Her 6-year-old son Wadea, who had been stabbed 26 times with a twelve-inch serrated military style knife that has a seven-inch blade, was pronounced dead after being transported to a hospital in critical condition. Czuba, police said, was transported to hospital with a laceration to his forehead. He was treated, released and was transported to the Will County Sheriff’s Office Public Safety Complex for questioning by detectives.
Oday, who has been communicating with his wife in the aftermath of the attack, said that his son never yelled out during the stabbing. His last words to his mother, according to the father, were “I’m fine.”
Speaking of when he first learned of the attack, Oday told The Daily Beast that, “The way I found out wasn’t the right way to tell a parent. I got a call from the police department, and they gave me three sentences exactly: ‘Are you Oday El-Fayoume? Are you Wadea’s father? He has been killed.’ That’s how I found out.”
“It was such a shock that I thought maybe I misheard. So I asked them: He died? And they said ‘No, he had been killed,’” he added.
Oday said that the man had been on good terms with the family, who lived on the ground floor of the home he owned. According to the father, the landlord had even gone out of his way to build a treehouse for the boy, and helped set up an indoor play area for the six-year-old.
“It all felt like torture. The reasons that led to the killing… we had no information about that for four hours. Those four hours felt like 40 years.”
A statement from the Will County sheriff’s office said that, “Despite the suspect not providing a statement to detectives, personnel were able to gather enough information through interviews and evidence to formally charge Joseph Czuba with numerous criminal offenses… Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”
Israel has been hammering the Gaza strip with relentless airstrikes this week which have killed at least 2,600 residents. The enclave has been running dangerously low on food, water, and medical supplies after Israel announced a complete siege on the region last week.
The Israeli military campaign was launched shortly after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, in a large-scale offensive that included abducting hostages and massacring at least 260 people at a music festival.
Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said that Czuba “had been angry with what he was seeing in the news,” and had yelled “you Muslims must die!” during the attack.
“Our hearts are heavy, and our prayers are with the darling boy and his mother,” said Rehab.
“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 six-year old 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. And we have testimony from the mother as to the harrowing moments that unfolded in terms of what was done and said—and it is our worst nightmare.
In a statement released Sunday, President Joe Biden said that he was “shocked and sickened” by the incident.
“The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek—a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace,” the statement said. “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.”
Czuba was transported to the Will County Adult Detention Facility and is awaiting his initial court appearance.
In his interview with The Daily Beast, Oday said he wants his son to be remembered as a “symbol” for the Palestinian people.
“People know that we, too, get discriminated against,” he said, referring to Palestinians in Gaza and abroad. “I want this to open a door for the freedom of the Palestinian people.”