PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. — Hours after the 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was allegedly killed at the hands of a landlord was buried, family and friends retreated to a quiet diner to look back fondly on a once-promising life cut short.
Wadea Al-Fayoume was remembered Monday evening as a happy child, full of life and spunk, who had grown close to the neighbor and landlord who stands accused of attacking him and his mother in a hate crime.
Friends and family gathered for a dinner at Al Basha Cuisine in Palos Heights less than two hours after Wadea was laid to rest. It was in this small restaurant where those who knew Wadea shared details about his short life.
“He didn’t have any hate or anger, and he was always on a natural high,” Mohamed Aly, 41, a close friend of the family who first met the boy on the day he was born, said during the dinner.
More than 100 people gathered to celebrate Wadea’s life over mansaf, a rice and lamb dish known in Palestinian culture.
Wadea died Saturday after he was stabbed 26 times at his Plainfield home. The Will County Sheriff’s Office arrested and charged landlord Joseph Czuba, 71, alleging he targeted and stabbed Wadea and his mother because they were Muslim. Czuba's wife told investigators that Czuba had become obsessed with the war between Hamas and Israel, authorities said.
Wadea's mother, Hanaan Shahin, 32, was stabbed more than a dozen times but is expected to survive.
Those at the dinner said the mother and son lived along the upper level of a townhouse, while the landlord lived in the basement.
Aly said Czuba, who was known to have several signs in his yard supporting former President Donald Trump, adopted the boy as a grandson in ways, buying him a swing, a trampoline, toys and gifts.
He said Wadea's father, Odey Al-Fayoume, had been wary of their living in Czuba's house because he was a Trump supporter, but they stayed.
Shahin told investigators that Czuba was an "angry" man. In a petition requesting that he be detained, prosecutors said that right before the attack, he confronted Shahin and "told her he was angry at her for what was going on" in Israel. Shahin “stated Czuba gave her no chance to do anything ... then attacked her with a knife.”
The sheriff’s office said Shahin ran into the bathroom and fought off her attacker as she called for help.
After the attack, Shahin asked her son whether he was OK. Wadea looked up at his mother and said, “I am fine, mama,” his final words before he passed away, Aly said.
Shahin came to the U.S. 12 years ago from the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. Wadea’s father came to the U.S. nine years ago, and Wadea was born in the U.S.
Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Wadea's father told him that they came to the U.S. in part to escape violence.
"He said, ‘Part of the reason we came here was to escape the settler violence in which situations like this could occur with impunity, and it chased us all the way to the United States,’” Rehab said Sunday.
As Aly spoke, Odey Al-Fayoume sat at the head of the next table in the middle of the room hugging loved ones and embracing others.
"I still didn’t believe my son is gone,” he said.
Neighbor Abdelbaset Emar, 53, said that Wadea befriended his son and that together they watched cartoons to help learn English.
“He would come over all the time,” Emar said as he left the dinner.
He added that both children played with action figures and often competed in football.
Aly thinks back to the day Wadea was brought home from the hospital after he was born.
“I saw another angel come into Earth. I saw a baby who could fit in the palm of my hand,” Aly said.
But life didn’t come without early troubles.
Friends said that by age 3 Wadea started showing signs of special needs and that he was later diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Family friend Yousef Hannon, 59, paid for the dinner.
“When a tragedy like this happens, I have to act,” he said. “This hate crime affects every Muslim, every Arabic, every Palestinian. This affects me.”