AJ Freund: Slain Illinois boy was beaten, forced into cold shower by parents, prosecutors say

As the parents of Andrew “AJ” Freund Jr. were jailed on $5 million bond each Thursday morning, more heartbreaking details of the Illinois 5-year-old’s short life were made public -- including how prosecutors allege he died at the hands of his mother and father.

JoAnn Cunningham, who is seven months pregnant with the couple's third child, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing child or child death, according to McHenry County jail records.

Credit: Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune via AP, MissingKids.org

Credit: Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune via AP, MissingKids.org

Freund, a licensed attorney, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of concealment of a homicidal death and one count of failure to report a missing child or child death.

"To AJ's family, it is my hope that you may have some solace in knowing that AJ is no longer suffering and his killers have been brought to justice," Crystal Lake police Chief Jim Black said Wednesday in a statement. "I would also like to thank the community for their support and assistance during this difficult time.

“To AJ, we know you are at peace playing in heaven’s playground and are happy you no longer have to suffer.”

Watch Black’s statement below, courtesy of WGN-TV.

Cunningham and Freund reported AJ missing from their Crystal Lake home April 18, but police investigators focused their attention back on the house after K-9 units searching for the boy found no sign of his scent elsewhere, indicating AJ had not left home on foot.

No Amber Alert was issued for AJ because there was no evidence he had been abducted, police officials said.

>> Related story: Search for missing Illinois 5-year-old focused on boy’s own home, police say

According to The Chicago Tribune, the criminal complaint against Cunningham and Freund alleges they forced their son "to remain in a cold shower for an extended period of time and/or struck him on or about his body" multiple times, causing his death. The Northwest Herald said it was not immediately clear what role each parent played in the boy's slaying.

The Herald reported that the court documents filed Thursday morning indicate AJ died April 15, two days before his parents claimed they'd last seen him and three days before they reported him missing.

Credit: Crystal Lake Police Department via AP

Credit: Crystal Lake Police Department via AP

A body believed to be AJ’s was found Wednesday, wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave near Woodstock, Black said. An autopsy was scheduled to be performed Thursday.

Cunningham, 36, and Freund, 60, gave Crystal Lake detectives information that led them to the boy’s body, the police chief.

>> Related story: Body believed to be missing Illinois 5-year-old AJ Freund found, parents charged

The Tribune reported that each parent was brought in separately for a short court hearing Thursday morning. Both wore the orange uniforms of the county jail.

A visibly pregnant Cunningham shook her head from side to side and held back tears as the charges were read, the Tribune reported. Freund gripped the podium in front of him but showed no emotion.

Patti Kokonas, a Crystal Lake resident who attended the hearing, told the newspaper she felt no sympathy for the parents.

Credit: Crystal Lake Police Department

Credit: Crystal Lake Police Department

“To see what kind of people would do something like this to children, it’s just horrible,” Kononas said.

AJ's case history with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services paints a bleak portrait. The boy was removed from his mother's custody at birth in 2013 after he was born with opiates in his system, the Tribune reported.

He remained in foster care for the first two years of his life before being returned to Cunningham. Two more allegations of neglect were reported last year, but AJ and his younger brother, Parker, were returned to their parents.

The Tribune, which obtained more than 60 pages of police reports through a Freedom of Information Act request, reported that a December 2018 DCFS investigation took place after police were called to the family's Dole Avenue home for a possible burglary, in which they reported prescription medication and a cellphone had been stolen.

Credit: Robert McCoppin/Chicago Tribune via AP

Credit: Robert McCoppin/Chicago Tribune via AP

The responding officer noted deplorable living conditions inside the home, including dog feces and urine all over the house, broken and jagged flooring in the kitchen, a ceiling peeling from water damage and several broken windows, the reports show. The officer wrote that the home was "dirty, cluttered and in disrepair," and that the children's bedroom had an "overwhelming" smell of feces.

She also noted a "suspicious" bruise on AJ's hip, which the boy and his mother both said must have come from the family's boxer, Lucy, the Tribune said.

Citing “concern for the children’s wellbeing,” the officer temporarily took the boys to the police station. DCFS officials found the allegations of neglect unsubstantiated, however, and the boys were returned to their parents, the newspaper reported.

A neighbor, Janelle Butler, told ABC7 in Chicago that residents in AJ's neighborhood have been concerned about his and his younger brother's welfare -- and have let police know it -- over the past year.

"We've seen the kids being taken away and are always shocked that they have been returned," Butler told the news station.

Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP

Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP

The reports obtained by the Tribune confirm that concern. A September 2018 report indicates that a neighbor called police to do a welfare check at the Freund-Cunningham home because it appeared run-down and to have been without power for weeks.

Cunningham would not let officers inside the house in that incident, but an officer saw both children and reported that they appeared "healthy and happy." The case was referred to DCFS, but the agency told police a power outage was not grounds for a DCFS investigation, the newspaper said.

Parker, 4, was removed from the home following his brother’s disappearance.

Freund called 911 April 18 to report that he found his son missing when he went into the boys' bedroom to check on him after returning from an early morning doctor's appointment. He said he and Cunningham had last seen AJ the night before, when the boy went to bed.

Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP

Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP

“We have a missing child,” Freund calmly tells the dispatcher in the call, audio of which was made public earlier this week. “We woke up this morning and he wasn’t … we have a missing child.”

The dispatcher asks if the father has any idea to where his son might have wandered.

“No,” Freund responds. “We’ve canvassed the neighborhood, I went to the local park, the local gas station down here where we sometimes take him to buy treats. I spoke with the assistant principal over there at the school where the park is, and they haven’t seen him or any other child. I have no idea where he would be.”

The dispatcher asks about pets in the house and if they are missing as well.

“Nope,” Freund says.

Listen to the 911 call below, courtesy of The Chicago Tribune.

Crystal Lake police officials said FBI agents specializing in missing children cases were on the scene of AJ's disappearance by that afternoon. Over the first 24 hours after the boy was reported missing, multiple search and rescue K-9 units, which are trained to find people, were also deployed.

A total of 15 law enforcement agencies joined the search for AJ over the past week.

The turning point in the case came overnight Tuesday, when investigators confronted Cunningham and Freund with evidence gathered via a forensic analysis of cellphone data, Black said Wednesday.

Black thanked the agencies involved in the case, including the FBI and the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office, as well as local, state and county law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency management agencies, saying their assistance was instrumental in closing the tragic case.

"The outcome of this case is a result of the extraordinary efforts of all of the investigators directly involved in the case," Black said.

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