IT GETS WORSE
5-Year-Old A.J. Freund Died From Repeated Blows to the Head in Fatal Beating, Coroner Says
Prosecutors say Andrew ‘A.J.’ Freund’s parents forced him to sit in a freezing cold shower before they killed him and dumped him in a shallow grave.
Andrew “A.J.” Freund, the 5-year-old Illinois boy whose body was found Wednesday morning in the woods, was forced into a cold shower “for an extended period of time” before he was beaten “repeatedly” to death by his parents on April 15, prosecutors allege. He died as a result of “craniocerebral trauma” caused by “multiple blunt force injuries,” the McHenry County Coroner's office announced Thursday.
Nine days after his murder, the missing toddler’s body was found wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave about seven miles away from his Crystal Lake home.
The toddler’s parents, 36-year-old JoAnn Cunningham, who is currently pregnant, and 60-year-old Andrew Freund Sr., were arrested and charged hours after the Wednesday discovery with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, domestic battery, and failure to report a missing child or child death. Freund Sr. was also charged with concealment of a death.
“It was apparent to me that nobody was going to sleep and nobody will sleep until justice is brought for AJ. This is the beginning of that process,” said FBI Agent Jeffrey Sallet at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
The couple appeared at McHenry County Circuit Court on Thursday morning, wearing orange prison jumpsuits as Judge Robert A. Wilbrandt set their bond at $5 million each. Both were represented by public defenders, who did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
Prosecutors allege in a criminal complaint that three days before the 5-year-old’s parents reported him missing, he was forced into the shower and then “struck” to death.
Local, state, and federal authorities launched a multi-county search for the little boy, finally finding his body after the couple was confronted with cell-phone evidence, Crystal Lake Police Chief Jim Black told The Daily Beast on Thursday. Search crews recovered the toddler’s body in the woods and technicians immediately removed evidence from the family’s home, including a child’s mattress and a shovel.
“To A.J.’s family, it is my hope that you may have some solace knowing that A.J. is no longer suffering, and his killers have been brought to justice,” Black said Wednesday. “To A.J., we know you’re at peace playing in heaven’s playground, and are happy you no longer have to suffer.”
According to Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) records, A.J. was born in 2013 with “opiates in his system,” and was removed from his parents’ custody a month later. He was placed in foster care, records show, for two years before he was returned to Cunningham and Freund Sr. in June 2015.
Twice last year, DCFS caseworkers were called to the Freund home to investigate separate allegations of neglect, but both were “determined to be unfounded,” a spokesperson said Thursday.
In December, when police called the agency after Cunningham was arrested on a misdemeanor traffic charge, authorities documented “significant problems” with the couple’s “cluttered” and “dirty” home, including an “overwhelming” “smell of feces” in the toddlers’ bedroom, documents show.
Crystal Lake Police also confirmed officers visited the home, which is an hour outside of Chicago, about 10 times over the past five years, and often noted the poor condition of the house in their reports.
“This news is heartbreaking. Protecting vulnerable children who come to our attention is at the core of our mission at DCFS. All of us feel this loss,” Marc Smith, acting director of DCFS, said in a statement obtained by The Daily Beast. “Our priority is the care and safety of Andrew’s younger sibling.”
A DCFS spokesman confirmed Thursday that the couple’s younger son, 3-year-old Parker, has been placed in protective custody.
Cunningham and Freund are scheduled to appear in court on April 29.