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New DCFS timeline of AJ Freund case: ‘Maybe someone hit me with a belt’

Andrew "AJ" Freund | National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Four months before his parents allegedly beat him to death after forcing him to take a cold shower, AJ Freund told a doctor during an emergency room visit that “maybe someone hit me with a belt,” according to a new timeline released Friday detailing state child welfare investigators’ interactions with the 5-year-old boy’s parents.

“Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” AJ told the doctor on Dec. 18, after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services received a hotline report alleging “environmental neglect” of the boy and his younger brother, as well as “cuts, welts and bruises” to AJ.

UPDATE: DCFS employee, supervisor removed from casework after boy found dead

The agency’s investigation was spurred by police who were called to the Crystal Lake home by his now-charged mother, JoAnn Cunningham, and saw “a large bruise” on AJ’s hip that he later told officers he suffered when the family dog “pawed him,” according to the DCFS timeline.

Andrew Freund and JoAnn Cunningham were both charged with murder in the death of their son, Andrew “AJ” Freund. File photos.
Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham have been charged with the murder of their son, 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund. | Crystal Lake Police Department
Crystal Lake Police Department

Cunningham, who was arrested at the time for driving on a suspended license, took the boy to an immediate care center at the request of a DCFS investigator after she was bailed out by her husband, Andrew Freund Sr., the report says.

At first, AJ couldn’t tell the doctor what happened, before stating “maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” according to DCFS.

Despite AJ’s comments, DCFS ultimately determined that the allegation of abuse was unfounded.

Following the doctor’s examination, the DCFS investigator told Freund Sr. to pick up AJ and his brother from the hospital and “to remain in the home as a safety precaution,” until “the home environment can be assessed,” the report says.

An investigator made an unannounced home visit the next day, according to the timeline. It’s unclear if it’s the same investigator who had been in touch with the family Dec. 18.

“The living room and dining room were cluttered with clothes and toys,” the report says. “The kitchen was clean and the floor was missing tile. The ceiling was not falling and investigator sensed a slight odor of dog urine. No feces or urine was observed on the floor. The father denied any corporal punishment and he denied mother using drugs.”

The investigator went on to talk with another DCFS worker who had dealt with the family in the past, and within two weeks the abuse allegation was deemed unfounded “due to lack of evidence for cuts, welt and bruises allegation,” the agency said.

Following the determination, child protection officials would not return to the home again until April 18 when AJ was reported missing by his father, records show. At that time, AJ’s younger brother was taken into the agency’s custody over concerns of neglect.

But the agency’s timeline also revealed that investigator’s contact with AJ’s family preceded his birth.

A source in the Department of Children and Family Services, who did not want their name used because they are not authorized to speak about the case, said Cunningham was issued a license to serve as a foster parent in May 2011, when she took custody of a relative.

Despite her license being “closed or surrendered” after three months, the foster child apparently remained in her care for nearly a year after, the records show.

In a call to a DCFS hotline in June 2012, Cunningham was accused of abusing prescription drugs and of neglecting the foster child, according to records. In December that year, Cunningham was accused of neglect again, this time involving her oldest son, who was 12 years old at the time.

Both of those allegations were also determined to be unfounded by the agency and officials could not say when the foster child or her oldest son either left the home or were removed from Cunningham’s care, citing privacy concerns.

When AJ was born the following year in October, he tested positive for opiates in his system and was taken into DCFS custody, the agency said. AJ was then placed into foster care until June 2015, when a judge returned custody to his mother after she and A.J.’s father participated in parenting classes and drug treatment programs.

AJ’s body was found wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave Wednesday in a semi-rural area of suburban Woodstock, about 7 miles from his home, according to court records and police statements.

McHenry County prosecutors say the parents forced him to “to remain in a cold shower for an extended period of time” and “struck [Andrew] on or about his body” until he died on April 15. The coroner ruled he died of blunt force trauma to the skull.

Both parents were charged with murder in addition to charges of aggravated battery, domestic battery and failure to report a child’s death and remain jailed on $5 million bail.

Read the full DCFS timeline of the agency’s interactions with AJ Freund’s family:

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