The state of Illinois plans to investigate to see if the Department of Children and Family Services were neglectful in connection with 5-year-old A.J. Freund, a boy found dead Wednesday, wrapped in plastic and placed in a shallow grave.
Authorities found A.J. on Wednesday, buried in a rural area in Woodstock, Illinois, a few miles away from this Crystal Lake home. Prior to finding the boy, his parents were under great scrutiny by both authorities and the public after DCFS released a 60-page report that detailed how the agency had been in contact with the boy’s family since his birth. The state now plans to carry out a comprehensive investigation, according to Chicago Sun Times.
“This news is heartbreaking,” DCFS acting director Marc Smith said in a statement. “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.”
A.J.’s parents, Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, are behind bars for murder, battery, and other felony charges in connection with the boy’s death.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, DCFS became involved in 2013, after A.J. was born with opioids in his system. The state took the baby into custody shortly after his birth. During the same year, A.J.’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, was in a legal battle over her eldest son after her mother, Lorelei Hughes, filed for custody of the boy.
Hughes told the state that she had concerns about Cunningham failing to properly care for her eldest son, according to DCFS court documents.
Andrew A.J. Freund Police R… by on Scribd
“ [The boy] was not provided food on a regular basis, eating a meal on approximately four of the seven days of the week and a remainder of the time there was no food in the house,” the court document read in part. “The child was sent to school daily with no food and no money to purchase a lunch…there was no food in the residence and the child had only marshmallows and water to eat.”
In 2015, DCFS returned A.J. to the family, but continued to visit the home after calls of neglect and abuse. The agency reported that the accusations were unfounded and allowed the boy to remain with his parents in their Crystal Lake home off of Dole Avenue.
In the last report, made in December 2018, officers arrived to the home for a welfare check and noted the house was in in disrepair and filth, with hazards that could have injured the children in the home, including A.J. and his 3-year-old brother.
“Upstairs in the room where the boys slept the window was open and the smell of feces was overwhelming,” the report read. ‘The boys were running around the residence playing and I noticed [redacted] was only wearing a pullup and had a large bruise on his right hip.”
Officers also noted dog feces and urine throughout the home, especially near the bedroom where the children slept. They also noted broken and open windows, a leaking pipe in the kitchen,“jagged or broken off” parts in the kitchen subflooring, and a “brown substance” on the kitchen door. The entire house was said to be “cluttered, dirty and in disrepair.”
Three months prior, in September, authorities arrived at the residence for a welfare check after a tipster reported the family had no power in their house for several weeks. Cunningham wouldn’t allow officers to enter the home, according to court documents.
Cunningham had no explanation about the power being out and claimed she had been staying at other places regularly, including a Best Western hotel in Woodstock.
The responding officers wrote in a police report that they informed DCFS of the situation, but the agency did nothing and explained it “would not do a check for utility issues as a residence without power alone does not warrant a DCFS investigation.”
DCFS Under Fire
This isn’t the first time Illinois DCFS has been under scrutiny. In March, the Cook County’s Public Guardian said the agency had “major failures” after the death of Ja’hir Gibbons, a 2-year-old found beaten to death in his family’s Chicago home.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks told NBC 5 that he wants more protection for children and hopes A.J.’s will spark a change.
“Obviously there were some mistakes made,” Franks told the outlet . “I don’t want to point fingers. I’m not sure what happened. We have to do some soul searching.”
“In this state, if you have opioids in your system, they take away your driver’s license. Right? You can’t drive. But here, they give you your kid back.”
Meanwhile, Cunningham and Freund appeared at a hearing Thursday morning, where a judge set their bond at $5 million each. Should they make bond, they’ll be required to wear electronic monitoring.
Cunningham has been charged with five counts of murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing or child death.
Freund Sr. has been charged with five counts of murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of concealment of homicidal death and one count of failure to report a missing or child death.
An autopsy is underway to determine A.J.’s official cause of death.
[Feature Photo: A.J. Freund/Handout]