A week ago, the parents of Andrew “AJ” Freund told police the 5-year-old was missing from their Crystal Lake home.
Early Wednesday, the boy’s father provided information that investigators say led to the discovery of the child’s body in a shallow grave in nearby Woodstock.
Hours later, both parents were charged with their son’s murder.
The shocking news capped a week of sleepless nights for authorities, with FBI agents and police on Wednesday sharing what they learned, as well as their outrage and emotions.
“To AJ, we know you are at peace playing in heaven’s playground and are happy you no longer have to suffer,” Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black said.
Black confirmed the news at a press conference Wednesday afternoon after news trickled out that the body was found wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave in rural Woodstock.
The site, where dozens of law enforcement vehicles converged earlier Wednesday, is located about seven miles northwest of the boy’s home.
Both the boy’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, and his father, Andrew Freund Sr., were charged with five counts of first-degree murder, Black said.
In addition, Cunningham, 36, was hit with four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing child or child death.
Freund Sr., 60, was 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 child or child death.
During interviews with both parents overnight conducted by Crystal Lake police and the FBI, Freund Sr. “provided information that ultimately led to what we believe is the recovery of the deceased subject, AJ,” Black said.
The cause of death is unknown at this time, and the investigation is ongoing, Black said.
THE FREUND INVESTIGATION:
FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Sallet also expressed his outrage.
“This is not the outcome that we want to talk about when we come before you, but it is the unfortunate result in this investigation,” he said. “But please know that local, state and federal law enforcement stand side by side to ensure that we follow through, and that justice is served.”
Records show that the family had a lengthy history with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services after AJ was born with opiates in his system in 2013, but the boy was eventually returned and allowed to remain with the family despite allegations of neglect.
The family home on Dole Avenue, authorities said, was also in poor condition, and the family lived without power at times. Police reports document it was full of dog feces, urine and trash and had many broken or open windows even in the winter.
Officers on Wednesday removed several items from the home, including a shovel, mattress, paper bags and a plastic storage tub. The family dog was also removed.
Hundreds of people attended a vigil Wednesday night in front of the Freund home.
A few neighbors who spoke with the Sun-Times said they did not know the family well and rarely saw them. Despite a neighborhood filled with pet owners who would walk their dogs in front of the house, none could recall seeing the children playing in the front yard.
Neighbors said they were concerned about the state of the house and had noticed seemingly small details about it that gave them pause, like windows being open in the winter.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, said she hopes they tear the home down.
“They should erase it and start over.”
Another man who lives across the street said that police were often at the house. Andrew Freund Sr. had lived there nearly two decades at least, he said.
“They kept the kids inside. We rarely saw anyone over there,” he said.
Several neighbors said police have been asking when Andrew was last seen in order to establish a timeline of when he disappeared.
“It could have been weeks,” the man across the street said.
Wednesday afternoon, a steady steam of mourners, mostly groups of friends and families, arrived at the Freund home as a light drizzle fell.
Some brought flowers to place at the makeshift memorial that has sprung up on the front lawn since Andrew was reported missing, while others brought a children’s toy to lay in the grass. A multitude of stuffed animals were piled together alongside bright blue balloons in the shape of stars that bobbed in the breeze.
Many held up their phones to take pictures of the memorial after placing the gift they brought.
“It’s an awfully sad day,” said one man who came alone with his camera.
A black sedan sat empty in the driveway of the Freund’s modest two-story home. The garage door was shut after authorities left and the blinds were drawn at each window. The run-down home was in need of paint and at times had many broken windows and damaged floors inside, police reports show.
Lindsey Bryan, 18, grew up in Illinois and Wisconsin and now lives in McHenry, said she was heartbroken when she learned Andrew’s body was found. Bryan, who is six months pregnant, brought a stuffed deer to the memorial to leave for Andrew.
“Your parents are supposed to be your protectors and providers,” she said. “For them to be the polar opposite is just heart-wrenching.”
Earlier in the week, some 40 people had been involved in the search for the boy, including members of the Illinois State Police, which used small aircraft and sonar teams in boats to scan bodies of water in the area.