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Authorities: AJ Freund was put in a cold shower and beaten, then died of head injuries

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 4/26/2019 Amanda Marrazzo, Robert McCoppin, Stacey Wescott

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Video by Associated Press

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — The parents of 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund forced the boy “to remain in a cold shower for an extended period of time” and beat him until he died, according to prosecutors. The boy was then buried April 15 — three days before his dad reported him missing.

Bail was set at $5 million Thursday morning for each of the boy’s parents, who were charged with murder hours after authorities found what they believed was the body of the Crystal Lake boy in a shallow grave near Woodstock.

Later Thursday, the McHenry County coroner’s office identified the body as AJ Freund. An autopsy determined his cause of death was head trauma from multiple blunt force injuries.

The official complaint filed against JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund gave the details about the alleged beating and AJ’s death.

Both parents had bond hearings Thursday morning at the McHenry County jail, with Cunningham appearing first, and were ordered held in lieu of $5 million bail, for which they each would have to post a 10% bond.

Each defendant was brought in separately for a hearing. They both wore orange pants, shirt and shoes issued by the jail. Cunningham was visibly pregnant at seven months. She shook her head from side to side and appeared to be holding back tears as the charges were read, then wiped her eyes. Freund gripped the podium and then stood with his hands clasped behind or in front of him during the hearing but showed no emotion.

Freund and Cunningham were charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery, and failure to report a missing child or child death. Freund was also charged with concealment of a homicidal death.

This combination April 24, 2019 booking photos provided by the Crystal Lake, Ill., Police Department shows JoAnn Cunningham and her husband, Andrew Freund Sr. On Wednesday, authorities dug up the body of a 5-year-old boy, believed to be Andrew "AJ" Freund, who was reported missing the previous week and charged his parents with murder and other counts. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)

This combination April 24, 2019 booking photos provided by the Crystal Lake, Ill., Police Department shows JoAnn Cunningham and her husband, Andrew Freund Sr. On Wednesday, authorities dug up the body of a 5-year-old boy, believed to be Andrew "AJ" Freund, who was reported missing the previous week and charged his parents with murder and other counts. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)
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In court, Judge Mark Gerhardt told both parents: “These are serious allegations.” Spectators could not hear much of what the attorneys said because of faulty microphones in the tiny court, where the gallery is separated from the court by windows.

The murder charge is punishable by 20 to 60 years in prison, which may be extended to life in prison under certain circumstances, the judge said. The next court date for the defendants was set for Monday.

“To see what kind of people would do something like this to children. It’s just horrible,” said Patti Kokonas, a Crystal Lake resident who attended the hearing.

“I don’t know what people are thinking. … I don’t feel sorry for them at all,” Kokonas added.

She criticized the role of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which initially took custody of AJ after he was born with opiates in his system but then returned the boy to his mother.

The agency subsequently investigated two allegations of neglect by the parents. Despite police reporting deplorable living conditions in the house, including dog feces and urine throughout, broken windows and floors and an extended power outage, and a bruise on AJ that was blamed on the family dog, the agency officials concluded the allegations were unsubstantiated and allowed the parents to keep AJ.

Freund and Cunningham reported AJ missing April 18. They told police that AJ was last seen at bedtime — about 9 p.m. — April 17. When they woke up April 18, they said, they could not find him and reported it.

Also Thursday, Crystal Lake police put out a statement thanking the community for its support “during this tragic incident involving AJ.” The department also said that, with rain expected Thursday night, police planned to remove the growing collection of stuffed animals, flowers, balloons and other tributes left outside the boy’s home, “so they can be turned over to AJ’s family, including his younger brother, in good condition.”


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