A.J. Freund's Body Found, Parents Charged in His Murder: Police
Andrew Freund Jr., also known as “A.J.,” was last seen last Wednesday as he went to bed in his family’s home in Crystal Lake, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, his father said.
The parents of 5-year-old Andrew Freund Jr., also known as “A.J.,” have been charged in his killing as police found the missing child's body in a shallow grave in Illinois Wednesday, officials said.
A.J.'s mother and father, Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, have each been charged with five counts of first-degree murder in connection to the death of their young son, whose body was found wrapped in plastic in Woodstock earlier in the day, police said.
Cunningham was also charged with four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing or child death. Freund was also charged with 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 or child death.
Evidence obtained through a forensic analysis of cellphone data that was presented to the parents during an overnight interview helped lead to a break in the case, Chief James Black of the Crystal Lake Police Department told reporters.
During their interviews, Freund and Cunningham "provided information that ultimately led" to the discovery of A.J.'s body, police said.
The cause of A.J.'s death is currently unknown, Black said. The coroner's office will determine the cause of death, he said.
"To A.J.’s family, it is our hope that you may have some solace in knowing that A.J. is no longer suffering and his killers have been brought to justice. ... To A.J., we know you are at peace playing in heaven’s playground and are happy you no longer have to suffer," Black said.
Investigators made the grisly discovery one week after A.J.'s father called 911 saying the child had vanished from their Illinois home.
Police on Tuesday released five years’ worth of reports related to the child’s family, including the 911 call his father made last week to report the disappearance.
Freund Sr. said A.J. was last seen about 9:30 p.m. last Wednesday as he went to bed in his family’s home in Crystal Lake, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago.
“We have a missing child,” A.J.’s father, Andrew Freund Sr., can be heard saying before trailing off during a phone call with a police dispatcher he made at 9:04 a.m. Thursday.
Freund told the 911 operator he had gone to a doctor’s appointment that morning and went to wake his son up when he returned home between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m.
But A.J. was not in his room, Freud said.
Freund said he searched the home —“'the basement, the garage, the closets, everywhere” — and the neighborhood, including a local school, park and gas station where “we sometimes take him to buy treats.”
“I have no idea where he would be,” Freund said.
None of the doors or windows in the home were open, Freund continued. The call to 911 ended when a police officer arrived at the home.
Crystal Lake police on Tuesday released the audio of Freund’s call and more than 60 pages of police reports written by officers who responded to calls from or concerning the Freund home over the past five years. The release was in response to several requests through the Freedom of Information Act, police said.
In December 2018, police responding to the home after A.J.’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, reported a burglary described living conditions at the house “to not be up to an acceptable standard of living with two young children living at the residence.”
Dog feces and urine were scattered around the home, several windows appeared to be open or broken and the fireplace was in disrepair, police said. Portions of the floor in the kitchen were also reportedly ripped up exposing the subflooring, and “jagged and broken off,” police said.
“The ceiling in the kitchen appeared to have water damage and was peeling and open to the piping in one portion,” the report said. “The door appeared to be covered in a brown substance.”
A window in A.J. and his brother’s room was left open, “and the smell of feces was overwhelming,” police said.
Police called Crystal Lake Building and Zoning to inspect the home, but said authorities with the agency were not allowed inside.
Officers also said they noticed a “large bruise” on the right hip of one of the boys and reported it to the Illinois Department of Child & Family Services. The agency had been in contact with the family numerous times since 2013, when A.J. was born with opiates in his system, according to the records.
Police said Cunningham told them she hadn’t noticed the bruise before but said it must have been from the family’s dog jumping on him. The child said that was what happened, and an investigator with DCFS said they were unable to ultimately determine the cause of the injury.
During that incident, Cunningham was arrested for allegedly driving with a suspended license, police said. She was released and allowed to return home to her children.
Three months earlier, in September 2018, police were called to the home after a concerned citizen reported they believed the house had been without power for weeks and looked to be in a dilapidated state, the report said.
Grass around the home had grown to be about 2 feet tall, paint was peeling off the house, its windows seemed to be falling apart and the electric meter connected to the home did not appear to be running, police said. A woman, whose identity was redacted from the report, answered the door and said the power had been off for a while but was unsure of the exact amount of time, and that she was looking for a new home, cops said. Police said the woman wouldn’t allow them inside, but brought her sons to the door and they appeared “healthy and happy.”
“I informed [redacted] of my concern and that I would be contacting DCFS,” the officer said, according to the report. “She stated she understood and that they were at her house a few months ago.”
Police were called to the home in 2014 when a woman there said she suspected tenants living in the basement were using heroin after she found a syringe on the kitchen floor. Cops told the woman to seek eviction proceedings.
On the same day A.J. was reported missing, Cunningham, who is seven months pregnant, was arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant, police records show.
She was taken into custody on a McHenry County warrant charging her with failing to appear in court on a driving with a suspended license charge just after she and Freund went to the Crystal Park Police Department to speak with detectives about their missing son, police said. She was released after posting $300 bond, and was due back in court Tuesday on that case.
Cunningham’s younger son was taken into custody by the Illinois Department of Child & Family Services after A.J. disappeared.
A hearing scheduled for that matter was continued Tuesday.
About 40 people set out to initially search for A.J. after he was reported missing, including the Illinois State Police, which used small aircraft and sonar teams in boats to comb through several ponds and smaller bodies of water in the area, Crystal Lake Police Deputy Chief Tom Kotlowski said.
Searchers on foot covered about 373 acres, while aerial searches spanned nearly 500 acres, officials said. Police and others have "continued to conduct grid searches in areas of interest," Kotlowski said.
Police previously said they did not believe the boy was abducted, nor did they think he had wandered away from the home, as canine teams used during the investigation only picked up A.J.’s scent within the house.
“The boy's mother continues to be uncooperative with police,” police said in a press release Monday.
A.J.’s father, Freund, spoke with investigators Saturday, authorities said.
“Investigators are continuing to review evidence, leads and tips as they become available,” officials said. “There has been no arrest in this case at this time.”
Cunningham’s attorney said his client cooperated with police until they began treating her as a suspect, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“We do not have her listed as a suspect, we do not currently have any suspects in this case,” Kotlowski said.
Cunningham on Wednesday again spoke with Crystal Lake police, according to the Chicago Tribune. The mother and her attorney were seen at the police station about 6 a.m. Cunningham's lawyer left on his own about two hours later, according to the paper.
Around the same time, an evidence technician and other officers were seen removing from the family home a small mattress, a large bathtub, paper bags and a shovel, the Tribune reported. A dog neighbors said was the family's was also removed from the house.
"Ms. Cunningham doesn't know what happened to A.J., and had nothing to do with the disappearance of A.J.," Cunningham's attorney said in an earlier statement.
A.J.'s father had previously pleaded for help in finding his missing son, saying: "We're just extremely worried. A.J., please come home. We love you very much."
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