(NEW YORK) — A 6-year-old Muslim boy was stabbed to death and his mother was seriously injured in what police said was a hate crime linked to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.
The Justice Department opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the alleged murder of the boy, who was identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume, and wounding of his mother, Hanaan Shahin, according to a statement.
Joseph Czuba, the family’s landlord, allegedly stabbed the boy 26 times with a “military-style knife” and his mother more than a dozen in the incident at their home in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield, Illinois.
Wadea’s uncle, Yousef Hannon, spoke to ABC News on Tuesday, saying the family was shocked over the alleged murder because Wadea was previously “like a grandson” to Czuba and there were no other signs he harbored any anti-Muslim views.
Hannon’s full remarks are below:
LINSEY DAVIS: Yousef, first off, I just have to thank you so much for coming on to the show during this time. Our condolences and thoughts and prayers certainly are with you and your family at this time. Would just like to ask, how’s his mother doing at this time?
YOUSEF HANNON: Actually, for the mother, there isn’t any official information right now. There is — the last thing we hear [is] that she was in critical condition. They, the father, you know, and other family members, they tried to reach the hospital yesterday and the day before, and we couldn’t have any information and they said that visit is not allowed.
DAVIS: Did you know this landlord who allegedly attacked them?
HANNON: Me personally, no, I didn’t know him. I didn’t meet him, but you know, I wish that the father could make it to talk with us. You know, he knows him very well. He was shocked, the father, you know, to hear the news about it. Because, you know, the way the landlord was acting with — before [he] was upset with Wadea — was like a grandson to him. You know, he was bringing him gifts. He loved him. You know, two weeks ago, when Wadea had his birthday, he brought him gifts, he bought him a soccer ball. You know, and in fact, you know, in the back of the house, he did a swimming pool for him. So this was — nobody could expect that.
DAVIS: He had never shown any sort of anti-Muslim sentiment?
HANNON: Never, never, never. Until this accident happened, there was no other sign.
DAVIS: I would like to ask, do you feel like your community and your houses of worship are getting the support from law enforcement that you need, in particular, at this time?
HANNON: I believe we need more attention, more security. And before this, we are a peaceful community around here. And this is how we are known. But the most important thing, you know, security will do nothing if we did not change the stereotype talking against Arabs and Muslims.
No one should feel unsecured, you know, especially a child, like Wadea, 6years-old, was killed in the hands of a man who was — he loved.
Nobody was there, you know, but according to the father, you know, yesterday, he was crying and saying, when the man showed up in the house, Wadea run to hug to him. Instead of that, he was met with a knife — 26 stabs. What is this happening?
DAVIS: And before we let you go, how would you like us to remember your nephew Wadea?
HANNON: A happy boy. He’s open to life. He loves his soccer ball. He loves his toys. He loves his school. He was happy, you know, learning. He loved his mom. He’s [a] smiling child. He was facing life with a very big smile, you know, and he was a happy boy. That’s how we should — yesterday, I couldn’t look at his face in the coffin. I want to keep the happy picture for him — the alive picture. I want to keep him that way. That’s why I didn’t want to look at him yesterday.
DAVIS: I can understand that. And again, we certainly send our condolences, and we thank you again for talking with us, Yousef Hannon. Really appreciate it.
HANNON: You’re welcome. Thank you very much.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.