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A 6-12 months-Outdated Boy’s Killing Shocked America. What It Did to His Mother and father Is One thing Else Solely. Aymann Ismail Dec 06, 2023 12:54 PM

They instructed him over the telephone, about an hour after it occurred. Odai Alfayoumi nonetheless regarded surprised as he sat throughout from me, with some sweets and coffees on the desk. Footage of a younger boy surrounded us on the cabinets. Alfayoumi’s fingers had been folded, and he principally regarded away whereas we talked. When he did look me within the eyes, I might see that his personal eyes had been pink, as if he’d simply cried earlier than I arrived.

“That Saturday, as I used to be on the point of go to work, I acquired a name from the sheriff,” he stated. “They requested me, ‘Are you Odai Alfayoumi?’ I stated sure. They requested, ‘Are you Wadee Alfayoumi’s father?’ I stated sure. Then they instructed me Wadee was murdered.”

Wadee was 6 years outdated. It didn’t compute. Who would kill a 6-year-old?

Alfayoumi hadn’t been speaking to reporters. He’d made just a few public appearances since his son was murdered, however he didn’t converse a lot, and when he did, he spoke in Arabic. I might see why.

He instructed me he retains excited about that decision. “You shouldn’t inform somebody of such information on this means,” he stated. “It was a shock for me. I couldn’t consider it. He was telling me, and I couldn’t grasp what he was saying,” he stated. “Lastly, I requested him, ‘The place is the boy?’ He stated, ‘He’s lifeless.’ I stated, ‘The place is he now?’ He stated if I had time, I might go to the police station to allow them to clarify. I went, and so they defined that he was stabbed.”

They gave him bits of knowledge piece by piece. By that evening, it was turning into nationwide information out of Chicago that his son had been killed, and the kid’s mom, his ex-wife, was hospitalized. “I cried nonstop till that night,” Odai stated. “He left this world and he took our hearts with him.”

As he realized extra concerning the killing, he realized he knew the person accused. The person owned the home the place his ex-wife and son lived; he lived simply outdoors their door. The person had an excellent relationship with them, or so he thought. He would even typically greet them with the usual Arabic greeting, as-salamu alaykum. Now the person was alleged to have stabbed his son 26 occasions, till he died. He wished, the police stated, to kill Palestinians.

Alfayoumi by no means meant to dwell in America. He’s from Jordan, the place he was a profitable inside designer. However when he visited Chicago in 2015, at 26, he was satisfied to remain.

Odai Alfayoumi wears a red track suit.
Odai Alfayoumi 
Aymann Ismail

Throughout his go to, he met a younger Palestinian in a Fb group for Arab Individuals within the Chicago space. He says she inspired him to remain within the States. So he did. Inside a yr, that they had married, and had a child boy, Wadee. “Life wasn’t simple right here. I rushed my choice to remain in America. I used to be a vacationer,” he instructed me. “I used to be supposed to remain a brief interval and return dwelling. It’s future, however. My story is predestined.”

The connection didn’t final. Simply two months after his son was born, Odai’s spouse requested for a divorce, saying she was sad. Although the divorce course of took three or 4 years, he stated they maintained a robust friendship rooted in mutual love for his or her son. The custody was divided in a means that left Wadee with Odai solely two days out of each two weeks.

“His mom normally introduced him to me at 9 within the morning,” he remembered. “I’d be sitting right here on the chair wanting outdoors the window to see him when he arrives.” The lengthy durations in between visits took a toll: “Longing will increase. After I drive him again to his mom on Sunday, I really feel like he’s taking my coronary heart with him. You grow to be like a charger; right this moment you miss him a bit, tomorrow you miss him extra, and so forth. By the point of the subsequent visitation, I’m completely out of cost; I need to see him. And as quickly as I see him, even for under 5 minutes, I really feel a lot better.”

Alfayoumi stayed in Chicago partly as a result of he wished his son to have extra alternatives later in life. “In Jordan, it wouldn’t be stunning to search out that your taxi driver has earned a excessive tutorial diploma. He may be a health care provider. There are various docs, however there are few jobs and low salaries,” he stated. “My life views have modified drastically. His future is what made me keep in America once I got here as a vacationer.”

Having a son named Wadee had been Alfayoumi’s dream since he was a toddler. His nickname rising up was Abu Wadee (“father of Wadee”), as a result of he wished his identify had been Wadee as a substitute of Odai. Quite than change it, he dedicated to giving that identify to a son if he had been to at some point have one. And when he lastly did, he says, it felt like fulfilling his lifelong dream. “It’s killing me understanding that my dream has come to an finish,” he stated.

I acquired the sense that Alfayoumi was nonetheless residing in some form of in-between—a dream state the place he hadn’t but processed precisely what had occurred. His olive-green eyes had been haloed by darkish circles of exhaustion. In his dwelling, he held again tears as he scrolled via his telephone, exhibiting me the final pictures he took of his son Wadee, together with considered one of him carrying a glowing blue birthday hat on his 6th birthday, simply days earlier than the knife assault. “He beloved to wish,” Odai stated, as he confirmed me considered one of his son kneeling on an adult-sized prayer rug that confirmed simply how small he was.

Wadee wears a Happy Birthday hat and holds a gift bag. A TV behind him displays a Happy Birthday message.
Wadee Alfayoumi
Photograph courtesy of Odai Alfayoumi

“I’m 37 years outdated. I’ll be 47 in 10 years. My son would have been 17 years outdated,” he stated. “The entire dream has ended.”

It’s much more surreal that he is aware of the person who killed his son. When Wadee and his mom moved into the condo the place he can be killed, Odai went to examine it and met the owner, Joseph Czuba. “He’s the one who let me in and confirmed me round. I didn’t like the home as a result of it’s exhausting to get within the driveway. My greatest worry was she will get into an accident on her means in or out, or the boy runs out into the road,” he stated. He stated the owner regarded tough and raveled, however he got here to really feel comfortable with him: “He would acquire scrap wooden and create a desk or chair for the boy to play with. He made a treehouse and created a swing between two timber out of strings and ropes. He had a swimming pool, a stage for performances. He put in super effort into these initiatives and once I requested him why, he stated, ‘for the boy to play and be completely satisfied.’ ”

“I solely noticed him once I got here to choose up or drop off Wadee. I’d ask him if the boy was maintaining him up or bothering him, and he would say, ‘No, it’s the other. I take him round the home. We play collectively,’ ” he recalled. Now that he is aware of what occurred in that home, he can’t comprehend these interactions.

Odai can’t get one element of that day trip of his head. “Think about a toddler will get stabbed 26 occasions? That is the form of query that has no reply. Which one killed him? The primary, second, 10th, 12th, or the 17th? Which one ended his life? How did he really feel being stabbed by somebody who he might need thought was taking part in with him?”

Hanan Shaheen, Wadee’s mom, has additionally shied away from the press. That is fully comprehensible: She too was stabbed repeatedly, and needed to spend every week within the hospital because of her wounds. She couldn’t return dwelling after her launch—the carnage remained—so she lived out of a resort for a number of weeks earlier than discovering a brand new condo in a close-by city. I used to be instructed to not count on to fulfill her.

However whereas I used to be in Chicago, folks near the household put us in contact. After I met her, I used to be greatly surprised: She was all smiles.

Hanan Shaheen wears black and glasses and smiles a little.
Hanan Shaheen.
Aymann Ismail

“How lovely it was to have these six years and eight days full of prayer and kisses and heat hugs and a contented artistic boy that was so sensible and singing, whose pals knew his identify earlier than they realized their identify. He was an angel we had for six years and eight days,” she stated with a shiny smile. We talked about how her son mimicked the best way she prayed, mouthing syllables to repeat the best way she quietly recited Quran. “When he was younger, he would deliver a shawl and skirt!” she stated, with clear delight.

Her new condo was nonetheless solely sparsely furnished, with naked partitions that echoed and emphasised the sound of her laughter. We each laughed as she recalled how Wadee would gown himself. “He would typically put them on backwards! He would say, ‘Let’s go to the park. I’m prepared.’ I’m like, ‘You’re carrying your garments on the unsuitable aspect.’ They’d chortle at us on the park,” she stated. “And now he’s a chook of heaven.”

Hanan served Arabic desserts on her espresso desk, an assortment of bite-sized baklava and Chicken’s Nest Kunafa, which I had picked up from a Palestinian dessert store. I requested her why she stated sure to my interview request when she had turned down many others. “I’m not glad with my face, and these bandages,” she stated, pointing to the a number of small bandages on her lip and chin, and scars on her face. “I used to be hesitant to try this first press convention. It felt like many, many individuals wished to see me. Many, many individuals are asking, ready for me to report that I’m nonetheless good. So I stated just one time, let’s do it, to point out the folks I’m good.”

As the daddy of two younger youngsters myself, I questioned if this was how Hanan’s grief had manifested: the beaming dialog, the plain pleasure in her reminiscences of her baby, her concentrate on the current and refusal to dwell on what occurred. After I gently requested what she remembered from that day, she declined to debate it, however a consultant for her supplied a written timeline.

That assertion says Wadee and Hanan lived in Czuba’s home for 2 years, renting two rooms. They shared a kitchen and a front room, which they wanted to move via to entry their “non-public house,” together with two small bedrooms, a kitchenette, and a toilet. They interacted daily, and had good relationships. Wadee would confer with Czuba and his spouse as Grandpa and Grandma.

Every thing modified after the beginning of the warfare in Gaza in October. In line with the household’s lawyer, it began Saturday morning with Wadee undressed and about to take a bathe, and Czuba knocking on the door in his front room resulting in his tenants’ house. Hanan answered, and was stunned to search out Czuba yelling at her, demanding to know why she wasn’t doing something to “cease the warfare” in Gaza. She instructed him that she prays for peace. Then, the assertion stated, he bodily attacked her. She was stabbed 12 occasions with a 12-inch knife with a 7-inch serrated blade. She took blows to her chest, torso, and limbs. Cuts to her face had been nonetheless seen.

The assertion stated Hanan fought again, scratching Czuba’s brow. She pleaded with him to cease, telling Czuba, “Let’s go to the hospital.” However, the assertion says, he continued to struggle her. After, she laid immobilized on the bottom, then pulled herself up, locked the door, and quietly known as 911 from her lavatory in order to not alert Czuba. However unbeknownst to her, he had already damaged again into the house she was renting and stabbed her son 26 occasions. She didn’t hear any crying or screaming. When she got here outdoors the lavatory, the police stated she discovered her son on the bottom with the knife nonetheless lodged in his stomach.

Police arrived on the scene rapidly and located Czuba sitting on the bottom outdoors the home.
Paramedics transported everybody to the hospital. At this level, Wadee was nonetheless alive however in important situation. Whereas Hanan was being handled, she gave the nurse Czuba’s spouse’s telephone quantity, and requested her to name her to elucidate what occurred in order that she wouldn’t come dwelling to the bloody scene and be stunned.

She defined to the nurse learn how to maintain her son in case she didn’t survive. However quickly after that, a health care provider entered the room, put his hand on hers, and instructed her, “Your son didn’t make it.”

By Sunday afternoon, only a day later, the sheriff’s workplace launched a press release that introduced Czuba was charged with first-degree homicide, tried homicide, battery, and hate crime expenses. (Czuba has pleaded not responsible.)

Hanan stated she was grateful to the police, however declined to talk any extra about it. As a substitute, she instructed me of her son’s love of vehicles, sports activities, and faculty, and her life earlier than America. She stated she was born and raised in Beitunia, a village outdoors Ramallah, within the West Financial institution, to an enormous household with 9 siblings on an idyllic farm. Her household grew peaches, grapes, figs, tomatoes, and olives, and so they had some chickens and goats, too. Neighbors got here to the farm to purchase from her household, and that was sufficient to maintain them. “There have been no homes, only some in a big space, and you could possibly see solely timber,” she stated. “It was lovely nature; we had been surrounded by inexperienced.”

After ending highschool down the highway from her household’s farm, Hanan turned a kindergarten trainer. Her sisters married younger, however when folks got here to ask for her hand, her mother and father turned them away. “I can’t even keep in mind the quantity of people that got here. My mother and pop instructed them I used to be younger and so they didn’t wish to say goodbye to me so early, so they’d say ‘Sorry,’ ” she stated. When she turned 20, a Palestinian American suitor from Chicago acquired her household’s blessing. “I noticed my mother and father smiling, and I assumed, ‘Why not give it a attempt?’ ”

She hadn’t thought-about coming to America earlier than. She was completely satisfied in her village, however she quickly relocated to Chicago in 2012. And inside two years, she had two boys, Ismail and Mohamed. That marriage didn’t final lengthy. After 4 years, she requested for a divorce. “The system of this life, with the dad working exhausting, staying out more often than not, the best way we dealt with this marriage made it inconceivable to proceed it,” she stated. The boys went to dwell with their father and he or she sees them on the weekends.

It was throughout this course of that she met Odai on Fb and moved rapidly into that marriage, the place she would have Wadee after which get divorced once more. “There have been no romantic moments or issues. We couldn’t proceed in any respect on this marriage. I felt it wasn’t written for us to proceed as spouse and husband. So I filed for divorce simply three months after delivering Wadee, as a result of I couldn’t proceed,” she stated. It was then, she says, that she might lastly concentrate on residing her personal life. “After which I started my life as a single mother. Not only a single mother, however I’d be me. Not a contented spouse; completely satisfied Hanan. I wished to dwell my very own life journey, and that’s it. I wished to proceed as Hanan,” she stated. “This time, I took my son with me. I stated I’d hold my son, and you could possibly have visitation. We continued this manner for six years.”

She discovered work as a caregiver for senior residents, and moved round rather a lot, at all times in search of extra inexpensive residing conditions. It was an actual property agent she was talking to who advised the rooms for lease at his brother Joseph Czuba’s dwelling.

She felt the place was good sufficient, however was way more interested in the value tag: $300 a month. She had blended emotions about her new landlord/housemate. “I lived with him for 2 years. He did discuss politics a bit. I might hear him. He’s an indignant man. However I didn’t count on he would choose me for this stuff occurring abroad,” she stated.

“It was like the owner modified. He simply went nuts,” she stated. “He was listening to the information and judging me for what he was listening to. He was like, ‘I instructed you concerning the warfare between your folks, the Muslims and Israel, and also you’re not doing something about it.’ He wished me to do one thing about it?” she requested. She laughed as she instructed me this.

She couldn’t cease laughing.

Odai lives in Bridgeview, a reasonably sized village 45 minutes outdoors of Chicago that’s identified domestically as Little Palestine. It’s instantly noticeable on the principle strip, South Harlem Drive, with its varied Arabic-language storefronts, a few of which make direct reference to Palestine.

“Right here, you return to 2004, 2005, plazas right here had been like 50 p.c occupancy. Now they’re full occupancy, with a wide range of eating places, sweets shops, Arabian garments, Arabian hijabs, and extra,” stated Maher Khattab, an ordinance inspector within the village. “We’re the bulk on this precinct.”

Syrian by start, with partial Palestinian ancestry, Khattab lately celebrated 30 years of residing within the space, first arriving in Chicago when he was 25. He had hoped to at some point return to boost his household in Damascus, however made his roots in Bridgeview everlasting after the Syrian civil warfare made it inconceivable to return dwelling.

He stated the Arab diaspora is attracted by the Islamic faculties and established mosques within the space. He watched the group develop from a small, nearly solely white city into what it’s right this moment. He remembers again in 1993, when the Mosque Basis was only one small room, and the daybreak prayer would have between 5 and 10 folks. These days, he says, the mosque is full 9 rows deep for prayer.

Not everybody has cheered the adjustments. “We’re rising right here. However I do know the world could be very racist. Folks carry lots of hatred towards this group of ours,” Khattab instructed me. He stated the city’s Muslims had been shocked however not solely stunned by what occurred to Wadee. After the warfare in Gaza started, Khattab observed a heightened nervousness locally. “We had some incidents. We’ve got a plaza that has eating places and retailers and groceries which might be all owned by Arabs. One man went at evening, we caught him on digital camera breaking a few home windows. So, now we have to watch out. In public college, youngsters are at all times cautious how they conduct themselves as a result of they’re representing Muslims.” (Anti-Muslim and antisemitic hate crimes had already been on the rise nationwide, and by the tip of October there had already been extra hate incidents this yr than in all of 2022 within the Chicago space.)

“For me, I’m at all times on alert. The group is populated across the mosque, however they don’t know what’s occurring past it typically,” he stated. He remembers listening to from Minnesota Lawyer Basic Keith Ellison, when he was nonetheless a congressman. Ellison instructed him {that a} white supremacist terrorist group that attacked a mosque in Minnesota with explosives was based mostly in southern Illinois. So the group made adjustments. “For those who go to the mosque, we normally have three of 4 entrances open for the prayers,” he stated. “Now, we simply hold one door open. We closed all of the doorways, and now we have our personal safety folks.”

“I do know 5 – 6 folks carry after they go to the morning prayer,” he stated. “I had a dialogue with the chief of police of the village. I stated, ‘Watch out when your guys go to the mosque. Everyone is carrying a gun. If one thing occurred, you’re extra prone to get shot by pleasant fireplace than the unhealthy guys.’ ”

Ahmed Rehab, the chief director of the Chicago workplace of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stated there’s no denying the hyperlink between the violence and the way Individuals understand the warfare in Gaza in an environment that he stated usually ignores the struggling of Palestinians. “Folks solely see one factor. They see the hostages, they see their tears and their households, and so they comprehend it’s Muslims—not Hamas, simply nasty Arabs, Muslims—which might be behind it,” Rehab stated. “Folks will take issues in their very own arms. And also you see what occurred to Wadee and his mom. It was a person who was radicalized by the mainstream media.” Rehab shared with me a handwritten demise risk he acquired at his workplace just a few days in the past. It was addressed to him, known as him “a lifeless man,” and threatened violence. “Don’t worry about watching your backs. Us crusaders will behead you Muslim rats,” the letter learn. It added: “The awful Muslim hyena boy was solely the start.”

A letter addressed to CAIR makes threads against Muslims.
Aymann Ismail

For the reason that baby’s killing, Rehab has been assembly with political figures behind the scenes and urging them to take this risk extra severely. “I stated to Sen. Durbin”—Dick Durbin, the longtime senator from Illinois—“he wasn’t radicalized by some right-wing weblog. He wasn’t a member of some underground white supremacist group. He wasn’t a member of some unlawful militia. He was a traditional grandfather-type man, a landlord who favored the child, who the child favored and known as him grandfather. He performed in his yard, he constructed him a treehouse, he allowed him to make use of the pool, he introduced him toys, and this man was radicalized,” Rehab stated.

Rehab had helped shore up assist for Wadee’s mother and father straight after the killing, each monetary and in any other case, together with hiring a therapist for his mom. He was afraid of how rapidly the story might change. “I’m sufficiently old to recollect Chapel Hill. It rapidly turned a parking dispute story,” Rehab stated referring to the three Muslim college students who had been shot to demise by a neighbor in North Carolina in 2015. “On this one, we acquired forward of it early with a giant press convention with nationwide and world information. The president responded and the governor got here to the funeral. The president known as the household and despatched a letter. We helped the entire world transfer in the best course about it, condemning it, calling it what it’s,” Rehab stated.

Throughout my go to, I finished by to have a look at the home the place Wadee had lived. It regarded ghastly, with a small memorial on the road with sports activities balls and teddy bears laid out and a small Palestinian scarf wrapped round a flagpole flying an American flag. Czuba’s truck continues to be parked subsequent to the home. The again of it’s coated in Christian bumper stickers with calls to assist youngsters. One is a quote from Pope John Paul II: “A nation that hurts its personal youngsters is a nation with out hope.” One other sticker says “Kids, our most treasured pure useful resource.”

As I walked round, a neighbor got here outdoors to confront me. She threw her arms up within the air and shouted, “Can I assist you to?” I requested if I might discuss to her, and he or she yelled at me to get away. As she walked again up her driveway, she instructed me that information vans have been parked outdoors of her dwelling nonstop, and that she’s had sufficient. “The entire nation must relax,” she stated.

Odai arrived early the morning of his son’s funeral to conduct the ritual washing of the physique himself. “I used to be the one who washed him when he was born, and I used to be the one who washed him when he died,” he stated.

For many individuals who attended the funeral in Little Palestine—“it was the most important the city had ever seen,” Khattab stated—Odai observed that it appeared to deliver closure. However for him, it was simply starting. The assist he’s had to this point has each heartened and annoyed him—the latter occurring extra when it comes from folks outdoors of his group: “Huge names reached out. My mind can’t grasp that. Joe Biden known as me and was crying. He stated he had a son who died. He stated he sympathized with me and felt for me.” However he didn’t see the losses as the identical, and stated he can “odor hypocrisy” when it got here to American insurance policies in Gaza and elsewhere. He can barely depart the home for work, however he plans to be there in courtroom as Czuba’s trial unfolds. He hopes others will pack the room.

“I don’t really feel something,” Odai stated. “For those who ask me as a father of this baby, life now solely has two tones, black and white. If I eat any form of meals, there’s just one style. If I drink something, identical factor. I don’t really feel something anymore. Will issues change for me? I don’t know. Every thing is in God’s management.”

Hanan, then again, smiled as she talked about the entire assist and love she acquired after what occurred. “I believe this hate occurred to point out me after it the entire love from everybody, the sheriffs, the FBI, the attorneys, all of them got here to assist me. Alhamdulillah. They’re taking excellent care of me. And I’ll proceed to want for all of us to have peace and completely satisfied days. Alhamdulilah.” After I went to take her {photograph} for this text, she rigorously turned her head to keep away from exhibiting most of her wounds. Time and again, she instructed me that she wished folks to see she is OK.