Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Kid With the Story No One Would Believe

 

The following is a very tragic story. Reader discretion advised.

Little AJ Freund died last week. He was five. He had been born with opiates in his system and was taken into custody by Illinois DCFS for a year and a half. He was then returned to his mother.

AJ’s mom met his dad when she was getting a divorce. JoAnn Cunningham hired Andrew Freund, Sr. to represent her during the proceedings. She wasn’t supposed to take anything out of her soon-to-be ex-husband’s home, but she and Freund together went into the home and collected some essentials…

She hired Freund to represent her in the case, but after a court issued an injunction that prohibited her from taking any property from the marital home, she and Freund went there anyway and took televisions, a Blu-ray player, and silverware. Records indicate that Freund also admitted that she was living with him at the time.

Both of them were subsequently convicted of indirect criminal contempt, according to disciplinary records.

On top of this, records say, Freund represented her at a court appearance in a criminal case after his law license lapsed due to a failure to fulfill his continuing legal education requirements.

As a result of the above, Freund faced professional disciplinary action, and his license to practice law (which was eventually reinstated after the aforementioned lapse) was suspended for 90 days, with a two-year probationary period that is still ongoing.

Andrew Freund, Sr. was well known in Crystal Lake and McHenry County, Illinois. He worked for a respected law firm, who tried to help him overcome his addiction to opiates.

There were lots of DCFS visits to the dilapidated house in Crystal Lake, police visits as well. They noted things like an overwhelming odor from dog feces, broken windows, squalor, no electricity. Did you know that lack of electricity in December is not enough of a reason to take action on behalf of children?

One neighborhood lady said that little AJ came trick or treating with his mom. He had bandages on his face and arm. The neighbor thought he was dressed as a mummy. No, mom corrected, he pulled a pot of boiling water onto himself. He has been treated at the hospital. The neighbor lady didn’t call the police.

Another time, little AJ was outside in the car with the door open and saying he was cold. His parents were busy having a loud argument inside the house. A neighbor man said the mom asked him please do not call the police. He didn’t.

When Andrew Freund, Sr. called police to rather nonchalantly report that they couldn’t find the five-year-old, the police started looking. Their dogs picked up no scent outside the house. The boy had not walked out. There was a vigil, with pleas from the father for a safe return of his son. DCFS took AJ’s younger brother into protective custody. The FBI was called in. Cell phone records were scrutinized. Dozens of fire departments and other volunteers came and searched. The focus by Crystal Lake police, however, never strayed from the parents.

Little AJ was found wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave on a nearby farm. His parents had forced him to sit in a cold shower while they beat him to death. Allegedly. Court documents indicate they waited three days before reporting him missing.

JoAnn Cunningham is 35; Andrew Freund is 60. Cunningham is seven months pregnant. They have been charged with multiple counts each of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery and failure to report a missing or child death. Illinois has no death penalty.

[Updated to add cause of death. An autopsy conducted today found that little AJ died of head trauma from multiple blunt force injuries.]

There is a song written by JJ Heller called What Love Really Means. The opening stanza is,

He cries in the corner where nobody sees
He’s the kid with the story no one would believe
He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please…
Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Life imitates art imitates life.

.

There are 26 comments.

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  1. Kozak Member
    Kozak Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Too bad Illinois got rid of the death penalty.

    Can’t think of more deserving candidates.

    • #1
    • April 25, 2019, at 11:24 AM PDT
    • 14 likes
  2. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    There need to be some sort of content warning on posts like this saying, in effect, this story will depress the hell out of you and make you want to open a vein.

    Or, this story may turn you into a vigilante delivering vengeance and death upon those who harm children.

     

    • #2
    • April 25, 2019, at 11:32 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  3. Doug Watt Moderator

    This was the perfect storm for a child. Two drug users who have no desire other than to get high. A woman who hooks up with a man that has no ties to her child. A child that was nothing more than a case number to everyone from the police, hospital, courts, or the state child welfare system. All that should matter is the child’s well being. 

     

    • #3
    • April 25, 2019, at 11:50 AM PDT
    • 15 likes
  4. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    There need to be some sort of content warning on posts like this saying, in effect, this story will depress the hell out of you and make you want to open a vein.

    Or, this story may turn you into a vigilante delivering vengeance and death upon those who harm children.

    Done. I do think it is important for people to know about this. The boy deserves to have people care for him, even when it is too late. The parents deserve whatever they get.

    • #4
    • April 25, 2019, at 11:55 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  5. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    This was the perfect storm for a child. Two drug users who have no desire other than to get high. A woman who hooks up with a man that has no ties to her child. A child that was nothing more than a case number to everyone from the police, hospital, courts, or the state child welfare system. All that should matter is the child’s well being.

     

    They were the actual parents of the boy. The mother stopped cooperating upon advice of counsel (not Freund). Yet another failure of police, DCFS, neighbors.

    • #5
    • April 25, 2019, at 11:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    There need to be some sort of content warning on posts like this saying, in effect, this story will depress the hell out of you and make you want to open a vein.

    Or, this story may turn you into a vigilante delivering vengeance and death upon those who harm children.

    Done. I do think it is important for people to know about this. The boy deserves to have people care for him, even when it is too late. The parents deserve whatever they get.

    Oh, well, I didn’t really want to suggest a “Trigger Warning,” . . . just commenting on the sort of reaction I had.

    • #6
    • April 25, 2019, at 11:59 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Oh, well, I didn’t really want to suggest a “Trigger Warning,” . . . just commenting on the sort of reaction I had.

    We aim to please.

    • #7
    • April 25, 2019, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. MarciN Member

    This is heartbreaking.

    • #8
    • April 25, 2019, at 12:34 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. TheRightNurse Member

    Wrapping the body in plastic? If that doesn’t show intent, I don’t know what does. I hope her baby gets taken away and adopted by one of the many, many people who pray for a child every day.

    • #9
    • April 25, 2019, at 2:24 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  10. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):

    Wrapping the body in plastic? If that doesn’t show intent, I don’t know what does. I hope her baby gets taken away and adopted by one of the many, many people who pray for a child every day.

    There was an online article in the Chicago Tribune today discussing what would happen to the baby:

    Cunningham is seven months pregnant. If she’s incarcerated at the time of the birth, DCFS would be contacted by either the hospital where she delivers or the jail or prison where she’s housed, said Jassen Strokosch, spokesman for the state’s child welfare agency.

    Medical care for the baby would be the same as if the mother were not incarcerated, he said.

    “The child receives the same care,” Strokosch said. “First and foremost is the safety of that child.

    Uh…yeah, right, sure.

    • #10
    • April 25, 2019, at 3:49 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Impossible. Horrible. Monsters. Throw them both in jail for life.

    • #11
    • April 25, 2019, at 4:11 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. tigerlily Member

    Poor little guy never had a chance.

    • #12
    • April 25, 2019, at 5:18 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  13. ShaunaHunt Coolidge

    Despicable.

    • #13
    • April 25, 2019, at 9:05 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Kay of MT Member

    This post brings back really bad memories for me. My reaction after being abused as a child was to beat the holy (coc) out of anyone I saw abusing a child, and then calling the police.

    • #14
    • April 25, 2019, at 9:14 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Due to scrolling I only saw the eyes of the kid at first. The tension in them makes him look ancient. 

    Or maybe I’m just imagining it because of the story. 

    We used to say of suffering, “that shouldn’t happen to a dog.” Stuff like this doesn’t happen to dogs much anymore. Just people. 

    • #15
    • April 25, 2019, at 9:38 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  16. Sweezle Member

    I can’t imagine the horror & pain AJ endured.

    Why are there so many AJ’s in the world? Why did the 5 time deported illegal beat his baby to death after he discovered he wasn’t the father? Why did a woman in Coachella CA dump 7 newborn live puppies in a dumpster this week? Who are these monsters?

    Will we even remember these day old stories in 6 months?

    • #16
    • April 26, 2019, at 5:39 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Skyler Coolidge

    A terrible story. I’d like to emphasize that ALL of the blame goes to his murderers. I felt a whiff of implication that others might somehow have had some responsibility.

    George Washington didn’t have electricity. Or air conditioning. Or even running water. He turned out just fine. Poverty is not a reason to remove children from their parents. A child can be safe and happy in poverty. It is the evil of the parents, not poverty, that killed this child.

    • #17
    • April 26, 2019, at 5:58 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  18. Skyler Coolidge

    Sweezle (View Comment):

    I can’t imagine the horror & pain AJ endured.

    Why are there so many AJ’s in the world? 

    There are are billions of people. I’m just happy we are so civilized and rational that this is as rare as it is.

     

    • #18
    • April 26, 2019, at 6:02 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    Skyler (View Comment):
    George Washington didn’t have electricity. Or air conditioning. Or even running water. He turned out just fine. Poverty is not a reason to remove children from their parents. A child can be safe and happy in poverty. It is the evil of the parents, not poverty, that killed this child.


    The father was a successful attorney with an area law firm, then in private practice. There were no allegations that anyone other than the parents are responsible for the boy’s death. The house is in a middle class neighborhood, not a slum. The interior was dilapidated…no electricity for months, jagged holes in the kitchen floor, an active leak sagging the ceiling in the kitchen, broken windows that allowed outside air in, the two little boys’ room stunk of feces. The parents were drug addicts…yeah, the successful attorney and the mother of his children a couple of drug addicts. George Washington did not grow up like that.

    When it takes DCFS five weeks to make contact with the boy after an urgent care doctor could not pinpoint the cause of a bruise on the boy’s hip just before Chriatmas last year…was it the family dog (a 60-pound boxer) or a football, or did little AJ spill the beans when, asked privately about it, said, 

    …maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” according to DCFS.

    The supervisor and caseworker have been placed on leave.

    Over time, enough people, from neighbors, to police, to healthcare workers, to DCFS caseworkers had an opportunity to do something meaningful for this family. Too often people looked the other way. Now a 5 year old is dead, his little brother is in protective custody and an infant will be born in a jail. It takes a village to screw up that big.

    • #19
    • April 26, 2019, at 7:28 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Skyler Coolidge

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    The supervisor and caseworker have been placed on leave.

    Over time, enough people, from neighbors, to police, to healthcare workers, to DCFS caseworkers had an opportunity to do something meaningful for this family. Too often people looked the other way. Now a 5 year old is dead, his little brother is in protective custody and an infant will be born in a jail. It takes a village to screw up that big.

    Sure, they should be fired for not doing their jobs, but the only people guilty of murder are those parents. Just as the police have no responsibility to stop crimes, so CPS has no responsibility to end child abuse.

    My post was about the complaint that the family didn’t have electricity, and the apparent disbelief that this was not a good enough reason to take a child from his parents.

    One thing that is not appreciated when we hear a tragic story like this one is that often when the government takes children away from their parents, even when the government has good intentions, it’s often the case (if there are no other family members to take them in) that the children were better off with the drug addicted parents than being in a foster home. I’m not saying that’s always the case, as the story above makes clear. It’s nonetheless true that foster homes are devastating to children who not only feel abandoned, but can be abused by other children or foster parents. There’s a shelter here in Austin that has wonderful furniture and lots of staff, but all the kids I’ve ever had placed there have some of the worst experiences of their lives there. The staff lets the children do whatever they want, with the result that most of the children are having sex, with or without their consent, they are usually exposed to drugs, and they don’t go to school if they don’t want to. (The staff simply says that they aren’t allowed to force the children to go to school or do anything else if they don’t want to.) Sometimes it’s better for the child to live in poverty with loving, but less than competent parents. There is no easy way to know what is best.

    We can sit here and armchair quarterback what others did or did not do. My belief is that the government takes too many children from their homes because of stories like this one. Politicians and CPS feel pressure to do something to stop all child abuse. But they can’t do that. We recoil in horror at deaths such as this one; and this death is horrific. But bad cases make bad laws. We shouldn’t allow a horror story to be too influential in how laws are written.

    • #20
    • April 26, 2019, at 10:15 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    Skyler (View Comment):
    We can sit here and armchair quarterback what others did or did not do. My belief is that the government takes too many children from their homes because of stories like this one.

    I never said that DCFS should have taken the children away because of all of the various reports from hotline calls, police visits, etc. But if we are going to have a government social safety net, it needs to actually function. I have a cousin who is a county prosecutor with the Juvenile Division in a large Ohio city, so I have certainly heard some of the things that evil, lost people do. The depravity to which people will sink is astounding. 

    From the DCFS narrative in AJ’s case and other details published in the last week, there were too many times when the opportunity to make a meaningful impact was lost due to wasted time or giving too many people the benefit of the doubt. AJ’s hip bruise was only discovered because mom had passed out in her car and the police made her take the kids to an Immediate Care. Many incidents of drug use and child neglect were deemed at the time unfounded, when they were real problems. It is sad and tragic when, in hindsight, people say woulda-coulda-shoulda.

    There will be a public visitation for the boy this coming Friday. It will probably be on order of Princess Diana’s…too many people in what is a small, rather close-knit community feel guilty.

    • #21
    • April 27, 2019, at 10:43 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Skyler Coolidge

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    We can sit here and armchair quarterback what others did or did not do. My belief is that the government takes too many children from their homes because of stories like this one.

    I never said that DCFS should have taken the children away because of all of the various reports from hotline calls, police visits, etc. But if we are going to have a government social safety net, it needs to actually function. I have a cousin who is a county prosecutor with the Juvenile Division in a large Ohio city, so I have certainly heard some of the things that evil, lost people do. The depravity to which people will sink is astounding.

    From the DCFS narrative in AJ’s case and other details published in the last week, there were too many times when the opportunity to make a meaningful impact was lost due to wasted time or giving too many people the benefit of the doubt. AJ’s hip bruise was only discovered because mom had passed out in her car and the police made her take the kids to an Immediate Care. Many incidents of drug use and child neglect were deemed at the time unfounded, when they were real problems. It is sad and tragic when, in hindsight, people say woulda-coulda-shoulda.

    There will be a public visitation for the boy this coming Friday. It will probably be on order of Princess Diana’s…too many people in what is a small, rather close-knit community feel guilty.

    So people did see things and abuse wasn’t noticed? So are we supposed to go and pretend abuse is seen everywhere? That’s not the answer. In every system there will be escapes, and especially when the issue is people who are smart and evil and actively trying to hide their sins. Like I said, bad cases make for bad laws.

    • #22
    • April 27, 2019, at 12:13 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. Annefy Member

    There was a story yesterday about a foster mother who beat a young charge of hers to death. Then stuffed the body in a suitcase. I’m not going to post a link; I don’t want to see the story again. 

    The neighbors and people who didn’t call the police about the young boy in this post are (I am assuming) beating themselves up with “if only I …”. They probably feel horrible; who wouldn’t?

    But I wonder how the person who alerted police in the story I noted feels? Can you imagine turning to authorities when you feel a child is in danger; then find out that child was brutally murdered?

    Son #1 is a pretty even tempered guy. The only time in his 30 years on this earth that I’ve seen him murderously angry was when the military police were called by a non-military father. His children were living on base with their mother and her new husband. They had refused to let the fathers near the kids for months.

    The MPs got in the house to find three young, abused children living in unbelievable squalor. Children’s Services had made multiple visits to the home, as had the police at the father’s request. And nothing had been done.

    So … my counsel to my adult children, if they ever see an abused child, try to find a family member of the child to alert. A grand parent, aunt or uncle. Don’t call the cops or Children’s Services. You might make things worse, or nothing will be done at all. 

    All I’ll end with stating that I can’t count how many people I know, all middle class homeowners living in nice neighborhoods, who had had a visit from Children’s Services. All issues that were easily resolved (my sister, for instance, got a visit because two of her children had broken limbs within a short time frame; my best friend when she made the mistake of taking her toddler shopping with her when he was sporting a black eye). But I’ve often wondered if some investigators don’t just prefer spending time on “easy” issues.

    • #23
    • April 27, 2019, at 2:22 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. Skyler Coolidge

    Annefy (View Comment):
    Don’t call the cops or Children’s Services. You might make things worse, or nothing will be done at all.

    Very interesting perspective. I always say that getting CPS involved in someone’s life is a hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. In my 6 years of representing parents and children in CPS cases, I can only count about ten to fifteen percent (using my gut as a measuring device) that really truly were ones that required CPS intervention. There is certainly a need for CPS and I’ve seen children badly mistreated, but I’ve also seen children harmed by being taken from parents who were just anti-social cranks who also happened to smoke pot.

    I’ll be sure to point out that most states, including mine, REQUIRE certain classes of people to notify CPS if they suspect abuse. This includes teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. The result is that teachers and nurses and doctors do a lot of reporting because they don’t want to go to jail or lose their license to be a nurse because they weren’t suspicious enough. Dell Children’s Hospital here in Austin has a reputation for excellent care for children, but it also has a rabid team that has a reputation among my peers for being extreme in trying to find child abuse (intimidating parents to approve more and more unnecessary and redundant and repeated tests which are only intended to find damning evidence when there wasn’t anything to cause any specific suspicion).

    If you’re in one of those jobs that makes you a required reporter, you should report if you suspect anything because that’s the law. But if you’re a parent, also remember that you do have the right to remain silent, anything you say will be used against you in a court of law, and unlike in criminal court they do not have to tell you that. In fact, also like the police, they are allowed to lie to you, scare you, and tell you that if you don’t cooperate they will take your kids immediately. If you are ever approached by someone from CPS, tell them you will talk to them with your lawyer present, and call a lawyer immediately who has substantial experience working with CPS. This has two benefits: First, you get some really good advice. Second, CPS almost never bothers people for very long if they have money or good jobs.

    • #24
    • April 27, 2019, at 7:54 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  25. Annefy Member

    @skyler – you certainly sound more informed than me. But the story of this young boy in the post, and the one I posted – are you telling me that every single teacher, doctor, nurse etc in contact with these young people are now going to lose their jobs?

    that doesn’t sound likely. I’ve never heard of that happening. I’ve heard of CPS workers being put on leave and sometimes, rarely, fired. One lovely case in Orange County went on for years I think. And the workers had lawyers paid for by the taxpayers. If memory serves their main defense was that it wasn’t reasonable for the CPS workers to know it was illegal to lie. On the stand. Under oath.

    • #25
    • April 27, 2019, at 10:00 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Skyler Coolidge

    Annefy (View Comment):

    @skyler – you certainly sound more informed than me. But the story of this young boy in the post, and the one I posted – are you telling me that every single teacher, doctor, nurse etc in contact with these young people are now going to lose their jobs?

    that doesn’t sound likely. I’ve never heard of that happening. I’ve heard of CPS workers being put on leave and sometimes, rarely, fired. One lovely case in Orange County went on for years I think. And the workers had lawyers paid for by the taxpayers. If memory serves their main defense was that it wasn’t reasonable for the CPS workers to know it was illegal to lie. One the stand. Under oath.

    I don’t know the law in that state. In Texas they are at risk if they had reason to suspct that the child was being abused. They may not get in trouble, but they might also spend a lot of money defending themselves.

    • #26
    • April 27, 2019, at 10:34 PM PDT
    • 3 likes

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