A child reported missing last week was murdered by his parents. Joann Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr reported their son, AJ Freund, missing on April 18, 2019. After almost a week-long investigation, authorities in Illinois found AJ Freund buried in a shallow grave less than eight miles from the family’s home.
On April 18, 2019, Andrew Freund called 911 to report his 5-year-old son, AJ, missing to police. The 911 call released by Crystal Lake depicts an eerily calm father asking for help finding his missing son. Freund told dispatch that he last saw his son at 9:30 pm the previous night.
Not long after reporting their missing son. Joann Cunningham and Andrew Freund appeared on Good Morning America. A tearful Cunningham sat with her head and eyes looking down. She begged for AJ to come home.
Freund spoke with the media multiple times while AJ remained missing. In all the videos, he seemed detached and almost unconcerned about his son’s appearance. He even told one outlet that the family had looked everywhere and that there wasn’t much more they could do to find AJ.
Joanne Cunningham made very few public statements. When reporters tried to speak with her outside of her home, Cunningham got into her car and covered her face. Later an attorney representing the mother said she was no longer cooperating with authorities. The attorney said police were treating Cunningham like a suspect.
Behind the media storm, Crystal Lake police and the FBI worked to find AJ. Through interviews with the parents, the police obtained access to their cell phones to track their movement. A forensic review of their phones revealed the couple visited a farm field eight miles from their home days before they reported AJ missing.
While the police looked for AJ, the Department of Child and Family Services revealed the parents had a long history with DCFS. According to a timeline released by DCFS, AJ tested positive for opioids at birth. He was removed from his mother’s custody and placed in foster care in November 2013.
In June 2015, DCFS returned AJ to his mother. By the following year, DCFS closed the case. Then in 2018 neighbors reported suspected abuse and neglect of AJ Freund. He had bruises on his arms and witnesses said the home was in deplorable condition.
Police forwarded the report to DCFS at the time. When DCFS investigated the claim, they attributed the bruise to a dog. Additionally, they found no evidence that the home was unfit for the child. Cunningham agreed to re-enter treatment as a result of the report.
After DCFS released the timeline, neighbors began coming forward to the media. Several expressed their deep concern for AJ and his brother. The family’s next-door neighbor Janelle Butler told Chicago ABC that she found the two young boys outside their home without shirts or socks late one night.
The boys told Butler that their parents were fighting. Butler walked into her home to call the police. By the time she came back outside, Butler stated that Cunningham had put the boys in the car and demanded that Butler not call the police.
Neighbors suspected the boys were abused and neglected. In fact, multiple neighbors reported the family or called the police. Police records indicate a total of 17 calls to their home in five years.
Then on April 24th authorities found AJ’s body in a shallow grave wrapped in plastic. In a press conference, Crystal Lake police said they found the body after forensics pinged the parent’s cell phones to the field.
After finding AJ’s body, authorities charged both parents with first-degree murder. An autopsy performed on AJ revealed he died from blunt force trauma to the head. The coroner listed his death as April 15, 2019, which was three days before his parent’s reported him missing.
Crystal Lake police announced the charges against Joann Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr in a press conference. Police charged both parents with five counts of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, concealment of a death, and failure to report a missing child.According to the criminal complaint, the parents forced AJ to stand in a cold shower for an extended period. While in the shower, the couple beat their son until he died.
After killing their son, they wrapped him in plastic and drove him to a farm field. Andrew Freund Sr is charged with concealing his son’s death and burying him.
After police arrested the parents, outrage erupted by neighbors and the community about DCFS’s failure to protect AJ Freund from his parents.
DCFS released a statement saying that they planned to do a full review of the case to verify any missteps by the department.
“This news is heartbreaking,” DCFS acting director Marc Smith said in a statement. “Protecting vulnerable children who come to our attention is at the core of our mission at DCFS. All of us feel this loss. Our priority is the care and safety of Andrew’s younger sibling.
We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation. The Department is committed to conducting a comprehensive review of the entirety of our work with Andrew’s family to understand our shortcomings and to be fully transparent with the public on any steps we are taking to address the issues.”
On April 25, 2019, Cunningham and Freund Sr. stood before a judge to hear the charges against them. The judge in the case told the couple that they are facing up to life in prison for the death of their son. Another alarming piece of the evidence, Cunningham is seven months pregnant.
Due to Cunningham’s incarceration, the baby will be placed in the custody of DCFS following their birth. However, the mother and father get to determine where to place the child. DCFS said that the county prefers to keep babies with someone in the family to reduce the infant’s trauma.
While police searched for AJ Freund, DCFS took custody of the couple’s three-year-old son. There is no word on if the boy is in foster care or with a family member.
AJ’s death is a tragic case that highlights the limitations of authorities to protect children. Despite more than a dozen calls to the home, the children remained in their parent’s custody.
Police and DCFS completely let AJ and his brother down. These children lived through horrific abuse and neglect. Neighbors tried desperately to help the kids and authorities did not take them seriously.
Now a little boy is gone. A boy that could still be here had more people intervened to protect him. The courts and police want to keep families together. However, this constant need to unify families puts the most vulnerable at risk of death. AJ should never have been living in that home.
CPS failed AJ Freund.
Rest in Peace, AJ. I only wish more people could have protected you.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
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