Crystal Lake tragedy: The short painful life of 5-year-old Andrew 'AJ' Freund

Andrew "AJ" Freund's body was found 'buried in a shallow grave wrapped in plastic parents' and his parents — Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham — have been charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder


                            Crystal Lake tragedy: The short painful life of 5-year-old Andrew 'AJ' Freund

Behind the tragic death of five-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund is a heartbreaking tale of misery and mistreatment, according to the highly detailed police report that documented his parents' string of run-ins with the law.

The body of the boy, who went missing last Thursday, was found near a private property near Woodstock on Wednesday. His parents — Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham — have been charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder.

AJ was taken into protective custody less than a month after his birth and spent his first seven months in a foster home. The child, who was born with opioids in his system, was then returned to his mother JoAnn Cunningham, Chicago's WGN9 reports.



 

In 2014, dispatch received a call claiming tenants living in the family's residence were abusing heroin after the caller found a syringe on the kitchen floor. In response, authorities advised her to seek eviction from the house.

Then, in 2015, Andrew Freund Sr., AJ's father, reportedly violated court orders with respect to his divorce and drug abuse — resulting in the suspension of his license to practice law. In the months that followed, there were at least two more investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect against him. 

Last September, a neighbor noticed that grass around the home had grown nearly two feet tall and that the paint was peeling off the house. Jane Butler called authorities saying the house had no power and had fallen into a dilapidated state, raising concerns among neighbors about the welfare of the children.

"In this neighborhood, a house without windows and electricity is not something you see, and with two little children living there, it's been a concern for everybody," Butler said. "I've brought groceries over; nobody ever answers, [I] hung them on the door."

Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham have been charged with the murder. (Crystal Lake Police Department)

Three months later, in December, police responded to a burglary at the home. Upon arrival, one officer found that the place was "cluttered, dirty and in disrepair."

Other responding officers said the door was covered in a certain brown substance and there was an "overwhelming" smell of feces in the boys' room. Looking further, authorities realized dog feces and urine were scattered throughout the residence and that "several windows were open or broken." 

When law enforcement advised inspectors from the Crystal Lake Building and Zoning Department to have a look at the place, they were not allowed inside.

Officers asked Cunningham about the bruises on one of the boys' right hip. In response, she blamed the dog.

Nonetheless, as part of a DCFS safety plan, AJ's younger brother was put in another home on April 18.



 

Neighbors were not convinced that AJ had simply disappeared when they heard the news break six days ago. According to Butler, it was very "unusual" for a five-year-old to simply wander out during a heavy thunderstorm.

"I'm not going to lie, I have doubts, and it's going to be someone's fault, but I hope there's answers. I hope there's justice," neighbor Lupe Mercado added.

However, authorities eventually uncovered that AJ was allegedly killed by his own parents, wrapped up in plastic, and buried in a shallow grave a few miles from the family home. His parents were arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Extending his condolences, Crystal Lake Police Chief Jim Black said, "To AJ, we know you're playing in Heaven's playground, and you're at peace."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article ran with an incorect photograph of the victim. The error is regretted and has been corrected.