Months before Andrew “A.J.” Freund Jr. was allegedly beaten to death by his parents, the little boy said he had “maybe” been hit with a belt in a claim that implicated his mother, newly released records from the Illinois Department of Child & Family Services show.
An emergency room doctor who examined A.J. told an investigator with DCFS they were concerned because he said “maybe someone hit me with a belt,” a timeline released by the agency said.
“Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” A.J. continued, the doctor told DCFS.
The 5-year-old’s comments came after police in December 2018 said they noticed a large bruise on his hip, which his mother, JoAnn Cunningham, said she hadn’t noticed but thought it must have been caused by the family’s dog jumping on him.
A.J. went on to say the same to a DCFS investigator before being taken to the doctor.
“The doctor reported the injury could have been caused by a dog, belt or a football,” the report said. A.J.’s father, Andrew Freund Sr., “denied any corporal punishment and he denied mother using drugs” to a DCFS investigator who visited the following day.
DCFS’s account of the family’s Crystal Lake home during that visit differed greatly from the description provided the day before by police, who noted in their report the deplorable conditions inside the house.
While police said in their Dec. 18, 2018, report the kitchen floor was exposed in parts to the subflooring and sections were jagged and broken off, DCFS’s timeline said the “kitchen was clean and the floor was missing a tile.”
Police said the kitchen’s ceiling was peeling and open to piping in one portion, while DCFS described the ceiling as “not falling.”
Officers reported the smell of feces in the home to be “overwhelming,” while DCFS “sensed a slight odor of dog urine.”
“DCFS unfounded the report due to lack of evidence for cuts, welt and bruises allegations,” it noted on Jan. 4.
It was the 18th event on the agency’s timeline of interactions with Cunningham since 2012, when she apparently first came onto DCFS’s radar as a foster parent who was allegedly providing inadequate supervision.
“The allegations were that JoAnn is abusing prescription drugs and neglecting her foster child,” DCFS wrote in June 2012. “The report was unfounded and expunged.”
DCFS again paid a visit to Cunningham in December of that year when they were notified she was allegedly neglecting and creating an “injurious environment,” which the law says occurs when conditions create “a real, significant and imminent likelihood of harm to a child’s health, physical well-being or welfare.”
The allegations concerned Cunningham’s oldest son, who by that point had come to live with Cunningham’s mother, court records show.
“He refuses to return to live with [Cunningham] and [said] that if required to do so, he will run away,” the boy’s grandmother said in a petition for sole custody that she ultimately was awarded.
But the December 2012 report, which included allegations that Cunningham “is abusing prescription drugs and has mental health issues,” “was unfounded and expunged.”
DCFS does not note in the records made public that Cunningham’s oldest son was taken away from her by order of a judge, only identifying him as residing “with a different family.”
The agency again became involved with Cunningham when she gave birth to Andrew in 2013. The baby tested positive for opiates and benzodiazepines, two drugs also found to be in Cunningham and Freund’s systems, DCFS said.
A.J. was removed from his parents’ care and placed with his cousin in what is called a relative foster home, remaining there even after Cunningham gave birth in December 2014 and cared for his younger brother.
When he was 18 months, A.J. reunited with his mother and father. Between June 2015, and April 2016, child welfare agency the Youth Services Bureau made 17 unannounced and nine announced visits to the family’s Dole Avenue home.
They reported not finding “any signs of abuse or neglect,” and A.J.’s case was closed.
But the agency again was called in March 2018 when Cunningham was rushed to a hospital after allegedly being found unresponsive in her car. A.J. was also apparently taken to the hospital, as reports noted he was observed there “to have odd bruising on his face.”
DCFS unsuccessfully attempted to see A.J. and his brother three separate times on March 21, March 29 and April 9 of last year. An investigator with the agency met with Cunningham and her young sons April 25, more than a month after the incident allegedly occurred. “DCFS investigator observed the boys to be clean and did not find signs of maltreatment,” the report said.
After completing a final safety assessment of the family’s home and verifying Cunningham’s participation in a drug treatment program, a DCFS official in May 2018 declared the report stemming from March to be “unfounded and the investigation closed.”
DCFS would not have another interaction with Cunningham, Freund and their children until the December incident, which would be their last until April 18, when Freund reported A.J. missing.
Prosecutors have said that was three days after he and Cunningham wrapped their young son in plastic and buried him in a shallow grave after forcing him into a cold shower “for an extended period of time” and beating him until he died.
“Police found Andrew’s body and arrested JoAnn and Andrew’s father on charges of murder and other charges related to his death,” the last entry on DCFS’s timeline of interactions with the family read.
DCFS said in a statement it is conducting a comprehensive review of its work with A.J.’s family and to address “any possible shortcomings” in this incident.
“Both the caseworker and their supervisor responsible for the case have been placed on administrative duty and will have no casework responsibilities as this review takes place,” the agency said. “DCFS will also be reviewing all cases that have been handled by these two employees.”
InsideEdition.com has reached out to DCFS for further details on the timeline it released, including when and for how long Cunningham served as a foster parent.
Illinois requires all prospective foster parents to complete 27 hours of training, participate in a home inspection and social assessment, complete a criminal background check, be financially stable and complete a physical. It was not immediately clear if prospective foster parents must undergo drug testing.
In 2018, 98 children involved with DCFS within the preceding 12 months had died, according a report released in January by the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois DCFS. More than half of the children who died were under the age of 2.
Officials found 18 of the 98 children were victims of homicide and were killed within a year of an open investigation or service case, the report said. Perpetrators included parents, partners of parents and relatives, the report said.
Twenty-seven deaths were classified as accidental and were in part attributed to asphyxia, suffocation or sleep-related causes. There were two drug overdoses, four drownings, an accidental hanging and an accidental shooting of a 3-year-old boy by an 11-year-old child.
The classifications of 26 deaths were unable to be determined by the time of the report’s release, but those deaths included asphyxiations, drowning and drug overdose as well.
“DCFS has lost focus on ensuring the safety and well-being of children as a priority,” acting inspector general for DCFS Meryl Paniak said in a statement to WRSP-TV in February. “This is evidenced by several recent cases and the clear lack of attention to assuring children and families receive adequate, thorough, and timely responses and needed services.
“Investigators, caseworkers and supervisors are unmanaged, and unsupported,” she continued. “Children are dying, children are being left lingering in care, children are being left in in psychiatric hospitals beyond medical necessity causing them to lose hope. This is not just unacceptable it is HARMFUL!”
Cunningham, 36, and Freund, 60, have both been charged with five counts each of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery and failure to report a missing child or child death. Freund was also charged with concealment of a homicidal death.
They appeared in court Thursday for bond hearings and were ordered held in lieu of $5 million bail. They would need to post 10 percent in order to be released from jail.
Cunningham, who is seven months pregnant, and Freund are expected to appear in court again for a preliminary hearing Monday.