Sadness and anger filled a vigil at a community center in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield as hundreds came out to remember 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian American boy who authorities allege was stabbed 26 times by his landlord in response to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
Mahmoud Yousef, Wadea’s uncle, spoke to the crowd with the boy’s father standing beside him. Yousef thanked people for coming and said he was touched by the wide variety of people in attendance Tuesday night and for Monday’s funeral service.
“I believe this gathering here is for our children,” he said. “These days, a lot of Muslim communities are keeping their kids home. They’re scared. They’re afraid. But today, everybody came here for their own children, not just Muslim children.”
Plainfield Mayor John Argoudelis, who also spoke, said he had learned that Wadea liked his Lego toys and playing basketball and soccer and said Wadea sounded like a typical all-American boy.
“We are united,” the mayor said, noting that representatives of many faiths were standing at the front of the gymnasium. “We are first and foremost here to mourn the loss of this young man and to support you, his family.”
During funeral services, family and friends remembered Wadea as an energetic boy who loved playing games. The child, who recently celebrated a birthday, was also seen as another innocent casualty in the escalating war.
“Wadea is a child and he is not the only one under attack,” Mosque Foundation Imam Jamal Said said during the janazah, or funeral service. He added “children are being slaughtered literally in the Holy Land, unfortunately, which is very sad.”
Yousef remembered Wadea as active, playful and kind. Citing a text message from the boy’s mother, Yousef said she recalled the last words her son spoke to her after he was stabbed: “Mom, I’m fine.”
“You know what, he is fine,” Yousef said. “He’s in a better place.”
The boy’s body was carried in a small white casket — which was at times draped with a Palestinian flag — through packed crowds.
Hours before the boy was buried, 71-year-old Joseph Czuba made his first court appearance on murder, attempted murder and hate crime charges.
According to court documents, Hanaah Shahin, 32, rented two rooms on the first floor of the Plainfield home while Czuba and his wife lived on the second floor.
“He was angry at her for what was going on in Jerusalem,” Fitzgerald said. “She responded to him, ‘Let’s pray for peace.’ … Czuba then attacked her with a knife.”
The boy’s mother fought Czuba off and went into a bathroom where she stayed until police arrived. Wadea, meanwhile, was in his own room, Fitzgerald said.
On the day of the attack, police found Czuba with a cut on his forehead, sitting on the ground outside the home.
Czuba’s wife, Mary, told police that her husband feared they would be attacked by people of Middle Eastern descent and had withdrawn $1,000 from a bank “in case the U.S. grid went down,” Fitzgerald said in the court document.
The boy’s killing prompted fresh concerns in Muslim circles about Islamophobia and being forgotten in war coverage. According to the United States Justice Department, a hate crime investigation into the attack has been opened.
Biden lands in Israel
The vigil comes as President Joe Biden arrived in Israel, vowing to show the world that the U.S. stands in solidarity with Israelis. Biden also offered an assessment that the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital apparently was not carried out by the Israeli military.
“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting. But Biden said there were “a lot of people out there” who weren’t sure what caused the blast.
Biden didn’t offer details on why he believed the blast was not caused by the Israelis. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said an Israeli airstrike caused the destruction and hundreds of deaths. The Israeli military denied involvement and blamed a misfired rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group. However, that organization also rejected responsibility.
Biden had been scheduled to visit Jordan after the stop in Israel, but meetings there with Arab leaders were called off after the hospital explosion. And his remarks spoke both of the horrors the Israelis had endured, but also the growing humanitarian crisis for Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
He told Netanyahu he was “deeply saddened and outraged” by the hospital explosion. He stressed that “Hamas does not represent all the Palestinian people. and it has brought them only suffering.”
Biden spoke of the need to find ways of “encouraging life-saving capacity to help the Palestinians who are innocent, caught in the middle of this.”
But he also said Hamas had “slaughtered” Israelis in the Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,400 people. Biden described at length the horror of the killing of innocent Israelis, including children.
“Americans are grieving, they really are,” Biden said. “Americans are worried.”
Netanyahu thanked Biden for coming to Israel, telling him the visit was “deeply, deeply moving.”
“I know I speak for all the people of Israel when I say thank you Mr. President, thank you for standing with Israel today, tomorrow and always.”
Netanyahu said Biden had rightly drawn a clear line between the “forces of civilization and the forces of barbarism,” saying Israel was united in its resolve to defeat Hamas.
“The civilized world must unite to defeat Hamas,” he said.