The troubled family history of slain Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund reveals missed warning signs and failed chances to intervene. If the signs had been noticed perhaps the young boy could have been saved.
According to reports, just before Christmas, a McHenry County doctor treated 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund. He also asked the young boy about a large bruise on his right hip.
The boy and his mother had suggested the family dog, a 60-pound boxer named Lucy, caused the injury. The doctor was suspicious of the explanation but could not identify another cause after examining the child.
He decided to question AJ alone. According to recently released records, AJ confided in the doctor saying,
“Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Despite the boy’s alarming confession, state child welfare officials investigated the December 18, 2018, hotline complaint from police about the bruise. They determined there wasn’t credible evidence to support taking AJ into protective custody.
Nine months earlier, a second hotline complaint about the boy’s bruising was also deemed unfounded. Tragically, the Crystal Lake boy was fatally beaten on April 15.
Three days later his father called 911 to report him missing. The call sparked a massive search effort that ended with the discovery of the child’s body in a shallow grave about 7 miles from his home.
His mother, JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and father, Andrew Freund, 60, now face murder charges in the death of their son. A Tribune review of the family’s troubled history in court records, police reports, and state child welfare documents revealed a series of missed opportunities for authorities to have intervened.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has limited legal authority to remove a child from a parent’s custody. They only do so if they find an “imminent and immediate” risk of harm.
The Tribune found that DCFS missed telltale signs of trouble despite repeated hotline calls and police reports. The reports documented squalid living conditions, substance abuse, domestic violence, suspicious bruises and, at times, uncooperative parents.
Investigators with DCFS have had repeated contact with the family from before AJ was born. He was also born with opiates and other drugs in his system.