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Crime & Courts

AJ Freund forced to stand in cold shower, beaten by parents before death, prosecutors say

Bond set at $5M for Crystal Lake couple accused of murder

Days before Andrew “AJ” Freund was reported missing, the 5-year-old boy’s parents forced him into a cold shower, beat him and buried his body in a shallow grave, court records show.

The body of the child unearthed Wednesday in an unincorporated area south of Woodstock has been positively identified as Andrew T. “AJ” Freund, according to a news release from the McHenry County Coroner’s Office.

An autopsy conducted Thursday determined AJ died from brain trauma as the result of multiple blunt-force injuries, according to the release. Police believe the boy’s parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr., killed their son April 15 and reported his disappearance to police April 18, according to charging documents.

Cunningham and Freund made their first court appearances Thursday on first-degree murder charges in connection with AJ’s death. McHenry County Judge Mark Gerhardt set their bond at $5 million each. Cunningham and Freund would need to individually post $500,000 bail to be released, at which point they would be subject to a series of court-ordered bond conditions.

Should either parent post bond, they would be required to wear electronic home-monitoring devices and barred from having contact with each other or anyone younger than 17. They also would need to surrender any firearms and submit to random drug screens, Gerhardt ordered.

On Thursday morning, the parents were kept separate as they stood expressionless in orange McHenry County Jail uniforms and heard the felony charges read aloud by a judge for the first time.

Cunningham is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery and failure to report a missing child. She’s additionally accused of harming AJ in another instance March 4, according to the criminal complaint.

Freund is similarly charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery and failure to report a missing child, in addition to concealment of a homicide.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Cunningham, 36, and Freund, 60, could face life in prison. Their next court appearance is set for Monday. Both Cunningham and Freund are being housed in segregation at the county jail, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers said.

Illinois Department of Children

and Family Services’ involvement

Cunningham, who is seven months’ pregnant, will receive medical care while she is at the jail, Rogers said in an email Thursday. Authorities will take the expecting mother to the hospital if necessary, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will determine the next steps once the baby is delivered, Rogers said.

AJ is Cunningham’s second child. He has one younger brother, whom DCFS removed from the home after AJ was reported missing. A shelter hearing will take place Monday in McHenry County court to determine where Cunningham’s younger son will stay while DCFS investigates abuse and neglect allegations.

It’s not the first time DCFS has investigated Cunningham.

The agency has had contact with AJ on and off since 2013, when he was born with opiates in his system, according to DCFS reports. Several of the allegations over the years were unfounded. He spent the first two years of his life in foster care before returning to his mother in 2015, the reports showed.

Timeline leading to death

Questions remain about the timeline leading up to AJ’s death. Criminal complaints filed in McHenry County court Thursday morning allege AJ died April 15 – three days before his parents reported him missing from their Dole Avenue home.

Neither the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office nor the Crystal Lake Police Department would comment further on the lapse of time.

Freund had told a 911 dispatcher April 18 that he returned between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. from an early doctor appointment and discovered that AJ wasn’t in his bedroom, a redacted 911 tape revealed.

Freund claimed to have meticulously searched the home for the boy. The parents also checked for AJ at an unidentified school and a local gas station before reporting him missing, Freund said.

Both he and Cunningham told police they had last seen AJ in the evening April 17, after their family dinner, bedtime prayers and a bath, Cunningham’s attorneys have said. The young boy was reportedly wearing a blue Mario sweatshirt and black sweatpants.

Crystal Lake police and FBI agents interviewed the parents overnight Wednesday after information was obtained through a forensic analysis of cellphone data, Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black said. Details about the parents’ cellphone activity were not immediately available.

Freund and Cunningham continued to speak with investigators, eventually leading officials to the rural site where AJ’s body was discovered Wednesday wrapped in plastic, police said.

Community support

Word of AJ’s death sparked frustration throughout the community. Neighbors who watched Cunningham cry in front of news crews or who heard Freund make public pleas for AJ to come home were crushed to hear that the seemingly grieving parents knew where their son was all along.

“I have kids [AJ’s] age, and I couldn’t imagine it,” Woodstock mother Rose Taylor said Wednesday. “It makes me sick.”

In the wake of AJ’s death, community members have hosted vigils outside the boy’s home and in the Woodstock Square. The cards, stuffed animals and other memorabilia at the house have since been removed so they can be turned over to AJ’s family – including his younger brother – in good condition, police have said.

Officials also have warned against potential scams related to AJ’s slaying. The Crystal Lake Police Department cautioned residents to research anyone soliciting financial donations to ensure their intentions are legitimate before donating.

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