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The Murder of AJ Freund

Aj Freund child child abuse murder usa

On the 18th of April 2019, 60 year old Andrew Freund Sr., made a phone call to the Illinois Crystal Lake police department to report his son missing. He claimed that the last time he saw his son, 5 year old Andrew “AJ” Freund, was around 9PM the night before and that he was sleeping in his bedroom. The following morning, however, he was nowhere to be found. He told the police that he’d searched the local area already, to no avail.

The Murder of AJ Freund

(Source)

Along with AJ’s mother, 35 year old Joanne Cunningham, he made appearances on the local news pleading for the safe return of his son.  “I just want my kid back, my kids are my life”, sobbed his mother. An investigation lead police to believe that AJ had not been abducted. 

Days went by and despite search efforts, AJ was not located. Police dogs only found hits in the family home and could not pick up a trail of scent outside of the property.  

A week after his disappearance, the body of a child was found wrapped in plastic, coldly discarded in a shallow grave near the city of Woodstock- just a 10 minute drive from the boy’s home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake. The child, who had been beaten to death, was later identified as AJ. The 5 year old had sustained injuries to the head, the kind of injuries one receives as a result of being beaten repeatedly with a blunt object.

Suspicion fell on his parents and investigation into Andrew Freund Sr. and Joanne Cunningham revealed tragic and disturbing details that exposed a long history of drug use and child abuse. Questions were also raised regarding the involvement of the Department of Children and Family Services and why they did not remove both AJ and his younger brother (4) from the situation after multiple phone calls and countless red flags.

The Murder of AJ Freund

(Source)

Joanne Cunningham (née: Summerkamp) had been using opiates and benzodiazepines for many years. She had previously worked as a hair stylist, but had been unemployed for two years by the time she was charged and arrested for the murder of her own son. Both she and Freund Sr. had revealed details during a cell phone exchange that lead police to the body.

Unsurprisingly, considering the situation, AJ was born with benzos and opiates already in his system as his mother had continued to use while pregnant. The newborn was removed from his mother’s care for several months while his parents attended drug treatment sessions and a parenting course. When they finished the course, AJ was taken from the temporary foster home that he had been placed in with his cousin, and was returned to Freund Sr. and Cunningham’s care. Without the tip-off from a concerned caller who had originally contacted the DCFS hotline to report the drug use, a toxicology screen may have never been performed and the fact that AJ had been born opiate dependent would never have been known.

Cunningham had fostered kids in the past and had her license suspended relatively quickly, but somehow went on to foster, neglect and abuse again. According to a report released by the DCFS, she had been accused of the same mistreatment of children in her care as far back as 2012: “Inadequate Supervision and Risk of Harm and Environmental neglect” the document states. The findings have left those following the case wondering how such an individual continued this behavior for so many years without punishment or the removal of dependent minors from the home. 

AJ’s parents had likely been abusing and neglecting him for his entire life. So obvious was this mistreatment, that the DCFS were recorded to have made a staggering 26 visits (17 unannounced, 9 scheduled) to their home on Dove Avenue between the summer of 2015 and the spring of 2016 and had received many calls alerting them to Cunningham’s drug dependence and abuse of her kids. Although child service workers were sent out to survey the residence and interview AJ’s caregivers nothing came of the reports and the accusations were deemed “unfounded”. They claimed the house was messy but clean and that although there was evidence that a dog lived in the home, that conditions were not squalid. They claimed to see no injuries on AJ.

Police had also received multiple calls over the years and described the rancid living conditions that AJ and his younger brother were forced to live in. Freund Sr. and Cunningham neglected to clean up after the family dog as it urinated and defecated indiscriminately around the house, leaving the home saturated in animal waste. The stench was said to be unbearable. The window in the children’s bedroom was broken, a ceiling fan was barely hanging on by a thread, the floor was damaged and the grass outside the house was reportedly overgrown to waist height.

A week before Christmas of last year, just a few months before his murder, AJ was taken to hospital after police investigated a hotline call placed by a caller who claimed to have seen abrasions and injuries on the 5 year old boy’s body. Crystal Lake police pressured to the DCFS to look into the injuries after visiting his home and he was later examined by a physician who discovered a large bruise across his hip. The official report was unsure of the cause, but wrote that the injury could have come from the family dog, a belt or a game of football.

Heartbreakingly, AJ told the medical professional “maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me”- an obvious cry for help that was ignored. Failed by the DCFS, who would later claim to be understaffed and overwhelmed by case loads, AJ would go on to suffer further abuse and  ultimately be murdered by his own parents.

On the night that he was murdered AJ was “forced to take a cold shower for an extended period of time” before being beaten to death.

Those assigned to AJ’s case no longer have the authority or position to be involved with the casework of any future kids and all cases they have previously worked will be reassessed. Additional staff has also been hired to unburden current workers.

 AJ’s younger brother has been removed from the home and is now in the care of relatives. A GoFundMe campaign to help cover AJ’s funeral expenses is now at over $52,000, way over its original $2,500 goal. The extra money will be used towards his younger brother.

Freund Sr. and Cunningham have been arrested on numerous and multiple charges including first-degree murder, failure to report the death of a child and battery. A full list of counts can be viewed HERE<< Cunningham is currently pregnant with another child. 

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