Joseph Czuba, a 71-year-old man accused of murder, attempted murder, and a hate crime in an attack on a Palestinian American woman and her young son, has pleaded not guilty following his indictment by an Illinois grand jury.
The charges stem from an incident on October 14, when Czuba allegedly fatally stabbed six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and wounded Hanaan Shahin. Authorities believe the victims were targeted due to their Muslim faith.
According to Shahin’s account to the police, Czuba, who was her landlord in Plainfield, Will County, became upset over the Israel-Hamas war. She claims that he attacked them after she had urged him to “pray for peace.”
During his court appearance, Czuba appeared in a red jail uniform, with socks and slippers. His attorney, George Lenard, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. Czuba himself did not speak and kept his gaze lowered as he stood before the judge in the Joliet court, located 50 miles southwest of Chicago.
Following the hearing, Lenard declined to provide any comments to reporters.
Meanwhile, Shahin, aged 32, is still recovering from multiple stab wounds. Her son’s funeral was held on October 16 and was attended by hundreds of mourners.
The murder charge in Czuba’s indictment describes the death of the young boy as the result of “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior.”
In a statement issued through the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Shahin asked the public to “pray for peace” and expressed that her son was her best friend.
This attack is part of a troubling trend of increasing hostility towards Muslim and Jewish communities in the United States since Hamas attacked Israel.