(NEW YORK) — The mother of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian boy who was fatally stabbed in Illinois in an alleged hate crime linked to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, urged the public to “pray for peace” in her first statement since the tragic slaying.
Wadea and his mother, 32-year-old Hanan Shaheen, were stabbed repeatedly with a serrated military-style knife in their suburban Chicago home on Oct. 14 during a confrontation with their landlord, who allegedly targeted them because they were Muslim, according to the Will County Sheriff’s Office.
Their landlord, 71-year-old Joseph Czuba, allegedly stabbed Wadea 26 times, and his mother a dozen times, the sheriff’s office said.
The head of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said he met with Shaheen on Monday following her release from the hospital.
Asked whether she had any statement to convey, she said, “Just … pray for peace,” according to CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab.
On her son, she said, “He was my best friend,” according to Rehab.
“We spent most of our time together listening to her recounting stories of how smart and funny her boy was, and how he cared for the planet and always liked to join her in prayer,” Rehab said in a statement released Tuesday.
Shaheen is focusing on her “physical and mental recuperation” in the wake of the attack, Rehab said. She is recuperating well from her injuries and is “fully functional but tired,” he said.
“Despite the painful loss and the trauma she experienced that morning, her spirit is strong and she is finding peace and answers in her faith in God,” Rehab said. “She said that she accepts that God chose them for this test — and that she finds solace in ‘remembering Wadea as an angel on earth, and knowing that he is now an angel in heaven."”
Shaheen plans to speak out during a news conference on Wednesday in what will be her first time speaking publicly on the attack, according to her attorney, Ben Crump.
“The pain endured by the Al-Fayoume family is immeasurable,” Crump said in a statement Tuesday. “No family should have to bear such a devastating loss, compounded by the burden of overwhelming medical bills. We must come together as a society not only to seek justice for Wadea but also to support this grieving family in their time of need.”
Czuba, a U.S. Air Force veteran, has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and two counts of committing a hate crime in connection with the attack. He did not enter a plea during his arraignment on Oct. 16 and was ordered held without bail.
During the arraignment, Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Fitzgerald said Shaheen told investigators that when first confronted by Czuba over the violence in the Holy Land, she told him, “Let’s pray for peace.”
“He didn’t give her time. He then attacked her with a knife,” Fitzgerald said.
During an Oval Office speech last Thursday, President Joe Biden denounced the killing while also addressing the fear in Jewish communities of being targeted amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas that broke out in the wake of Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7.
“We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens,” Biden said. “We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia.”
Shortly after his speech, Biden spoke with the boy’s father and uncle, the White House said.
The Department of Justice said it has opened a federal hate crimes investigation into Wadea’s death.
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