In the photograph that first introduced Wadea Al-Fayoume to millions, the kindergartner is seen celebrating his sixth birthday at his home near Chicago.
With one hand on a blue “Happy Birthday” hat on his head, Wadea stands in the warm light of the house, surrounded by gifts. On a shelf behind him is a wooden sign proclaiming “home.” A birthday video is broadcast on the living room TV.
In that same house — and just eight days after this photo was taken — Wadea was stabbed 26 times by his family’s landlord because he was Muslim, authorities said. The “ongoing conflict in the Middle East involving Hamas and the Israelis” is why the boy and his mother – who also suffered more than a dozen stab wounds but survived – were targeted, according to the Will County Sheriff’s Office.
The 71-year-old suspect was charged with murder and hate crimes, among other charges, and was ordered held without bail when he appeared in court Monday.
But Wadea knew nothing about the reasons that ultimately led to his brutal killing on Saturday, community advocates said this week.
Instead, they described him as a warm, kind child who focused on living with his friends and playing outside, and who loved his parents and family deeply.
In her final moments, Wadea offered words of comfort to her mother, a family member revealed Monday.
“His last words to his mother: ‘Mom, I’m fine,'” Wadea’s uncle, Yousef Hannon, told reporters. “You know what, he’s fine. He’s in a better place.
During his short life, Wadea “loved everything” – from his parents to Legos to spending time with his friends – Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said during a press conference on Sunday.
“He loved everyone,” Rehab said. “He loved his parents, he loved his family and friends, he loved life and he hoped to live a long, healthy and prosperous life. »
And like most other children, Wadea loved to play, the principal said.
“He loved his toys, he loved anything involving a ball, basketball, football, he loved coloring, he loved swinging,” Rehab said.
Wadea’s parents are from a village in the West Bank, Rehab said. His mother moved to the United States 12 years ago and his father nine years ago. Wadea was born in the United States.
“The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek: a refuge to live, learn and pray in peace,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement responding to the killing. “This horrific act of hatred has no place in America.”
Instead of returning to class on Monday and spending time with his friends, Wadea was buried.
Outside the mosque where the child’s funeral was held, Wadea’s father, uncle and community leaders gathered for a news conference Monday.
Hannon, the uncle, spoke about Wadea in the present tense during a brief speech to journalists.
“He’s a 6-year-old,” Hannon said. “He’s a very sweet child, he likes to jump up and down.”
Wadea’s mother, Hanaan Shahin, was unable to attend the services because she is still recovering in hospital, Rehab said.
As she sits alone in a hospital room, Rehab said, the child’s mother “faces her wounds, her emotional trauma and the biggest hole that can ever be filled, the biggest empty of all, the loss of one’s child.” .”
Moments before the attack, the suspect told Shahin that he was angry with her because of what was happening in Jerusalem, according to a court filing. She said they should “pray for peace” and the suspect attacked her with a knife, the filing states.
The mother locked herself in the bathroom to escape, but was not quick enough to retrieve her son. By the time she reached 911, “her son was being stabbed,” according to the filing.
Deputies arrived at the home around 11:38 a.m. Saturday. Wadea was pronounced dead at a hospital at 12:19 p.m., according to court documents.
Odey Al-Fayoume, the boy’s father, called for accountability in the killing and said Monday he hoped something positive could come from the tragedy.
“I am here because I am the father of the boy, not because I am a politician or a cleric. I am here as the father of a child whose rights have been violated,” he said in Arabic.
Local, state and federal leaders condemned the attack on the family and why they were targeted.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson called the killing “a shameful reminder of the destructive role Islamophobia plays in our society.”
“We mourn alongside his family and our state’s Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities as we come to terms with this unthinkable loss,” Johnson said. said on social media.
“Every Palestinian child is just as beautiful, has just as much right to be mourned and when we mourn Wadea, we mourn all these children and when we condemn the hatred that killed Wadea, we condemn the hatred that killed Wadea. killed all these children,” said Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and assistant professor of Islamic studies in the Liberal Graduate Studies Program at Southern Methodist University.
“What kind of hatred does it take to build up in a man’s head for him to walk up to a 6-year-old boy and stab him 26 times? he added. “I want each of us to take a step back and really evaluate our own humanity in the moment.”