‘Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.’
A hospital ER doctor heard those chilling words just four months ago from the mouth of AJ Freund, the five-year-old boy whose body was discovered this week buried in an Illinois field.
But despite that vivid warning and 27 visits to the family home by the social workers — 18 of them unannounced — AJ, who was born with opioids in his system, still ended up dead.
His parents, 60-year-old lawyer Andrew Freund and cosmetologist JoAnn Cunningham, 36, are now each facing five counts of murder and other charges that will almost certainly put them behind bars for life if they are found guilty.
‘Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.’ A hospital ER doctor heard those chilling words just four months ago from the mouth of AJ Freund (left and right), the five-year-old boy whose body was discovered this week buried in an Illinois field
Two case workers have been taken off all hands-on work pending an internal investigation into the tragedy by the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS).
AJ’s discussion with the unidentified doctor is set out in a timeline of events drawn up by DCFS and obtained by DailyMail.com.
Amazingly it reports that Cunningham was herself a licensed foster parent used by the department.
It states that she had two complaints brought against her before AJ’s birth, one for inadequate supervision and the other for ‘risk of harm and environmental neglect.’ Both complaints were dismissed.
The department got a call on its hotline on December 18 last year alleging ‘environmental neglect’ affecting both AJ and his four-year-old brother.
The caller said AJ — whom the report refers to by his given name, Andrew — was covered in ‘cuts, welts and bruises.’
His parents, 60-year-old lawyer Andrew Freund and cosmetologist JoAnn Cunningham, 36, are now each facing five counts of murder and other charges that will almost certainly put them behind bars for life if they are found guilty
Cops went to the dilapidated home in Crystal Lake, Illinois, that she shared with the much-older father of two of her three children, the report says. She is now seven-months pregnant with her fourth child.
‘Police observed a large bruise on Andrew’s hip,’ it states. ‘Police observed the ceiling falling down, the floor torn up, and the kids’ bedroom smelled of dog urine.’
Despite vivid warnings and 27 visits to the family home by the social workers — 18 of them unannounced — AJ, who was born with opioids in his system, still ended up dead
Cunningham was then arrested — not for harming the children, but for driving on a suspended license — and the two boys were temporarily placed in protective custody.
That same day the brothers were interviewed at Crystal Lake police station. AJ said he got the bruise when the family dog — a 60 lb. boxer called Lucy — pawed him.
When Freund arrived at the police station to bond out his girlfriend, she was allowed to leave with the children on condition that she take AJ to the ER.
‘ER physician examined Andrew and could not state how his injury was caused,’ the report states. ‘The doctor reported injury could have been caused by a dog, belt or football.
‘The doctor was concerned because Andrew stated that “maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”’
The following day a DCFS investigator made the last unannounced visit to the home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake, 45 miles northwest of Chicago. ‘The living room and dining room were cluttered with clothes and toys,’ the report states.
But the house was in better condition. The ceiling appeared to be fixed and there was only ‘a slight odor of dog urine.’
Freund denied that he had beaten the boys and said Cunningham had not been using drugs.
The case dragged on over Christmas and the New Year and it wasn’t until January 4 that the department dismissed the hotline report as unfounded.
There was no further contact with the family until April 18 when AJ was reported missing. When caseworkers went to the family home they found ‘ripped up floors, food lying around and clothes/garbage everywhere.’
An investigator took the younger brother, who ‘appeared healthy and showed no obvious signs of abuse or neglect’ and placed him with a foster parent.
Six days later AJ’s body was discovered buried in a shallow grave in a field in Woodstock, Illinois, some 10 miles away.
AJ was initially taken from his parents immediately after his October 2013 birth and placed in the care of a cousin. His younger brother is now living with that relative. An older half-brother lives with his grandparents in nearby McHenry, Illinois.
AJ was returned to his parents in 2015 when he was 18 months old and DCFS closed their case on him in April the following year.
But in March last year, warning bells began to ring again when Cunningham was found passed out in her car. At the time, AJ ‘was observed at the hospital to have odd bruising on his face.’
AJ’s body was found buried in a shallow grave in this field in Crystal Lake, Illinois earlier this week. His parents said he vanished one night after he went to bed
Within two months the case had been closed after Cunningham agreed to enter a drug treatment program.
The DCFS says it is now ‘conducting a comprehensive review of our work with AJ’s family,’ adding: ‘Both the caseworker and the supervisor responsible for this case have been placed on administrative duty and will have no casework responsibilities as this review takes place.’
The paper also said that Cunningham’s mother Lorelei Hughes claimed in court in 2012 that she was an unfit mother to AJ’s older half-brother, whom she had given birth to when she was 17.
Hughes would not comment to DailyMail.com.
The paper said Cunningham had tried to regain custody nine months before AJ was born but Hughes won the case after she described her daughter’s living conditions.
‘When Hughes would drop the boy off at the home after a visit, she’d find and begin cleaning floors covered in dog feces and piles of cat urine-soaked laundry in the home, which often was without heat or running water,’ the Tribune reported.
Hughes also claimed that Freund and Cunningham had a violent relationship with Cunningham threatening him with a knife and Freund pushing her down the stairs.’
Freund and Cunningham have each been charged with five counts of first degree murder. The court complaint says they made the little boy stand in a cold shower ‘for an extended period of time’ and beat him.
They are also charged with counts of battery and failing to report a death and Freund is also charged with concealing a body.
Police allege that AJ was killed on April 15, three days before his parents reported him missing. His body was found in a shallow grave wrapped in plastic. An autopsy decided he died from blows to the head.
His parents are due in court in Woodstock on Monday. They are currently being held in the McHenry County Jail on $5 million bond.
It is not the first time they have been inside that jail. Both did time there in 2015 for criminal contempt.
Freund was representing Cunningham in her divorce and the court had told her that she should not take any items from the marital home. But with her lawyer’s advice, she got in and took a Blu-ray player, TVs and silverware.
Cunningham was seen crying with her lawyer just after she reported him missing. Less than a week later, she was arrested and charged with his murder
Freund was sentenced to 14 days in jail, Cunningham to 30 days. The Illinois Supreme Court then suspended Freund’s law license. He was told he would only get it back if he completed rehab for alcohol, cocaine and opioids.
Wellwishers continue to visit the white two-story home with green shutters where AJ lived and died, leaving balloons, candles and stuffed animals on the front lawn.
The house with its rusted gutters, peeling paint and ill-fitting windows is in far worse condition than any other on the well-maintained street.
Police removed a mountain of gifts on Thursday night because of the threat of rain, but on Friday a smaller pile grew again.
An obituary posted by AJ’s family described him as ‘a ray of sunshine with a smile that could light up the room.
It added: ‘AJ was a loving, affectionate and outgoing little boy. His giggle and laugh will never be forgotten.
‘As difficult and tragic as this is, may AJ’s death bring awareness and hope to other children living under abusive conditions.
‘No child deserves this. Let us rise up and make sure it does not happen to other innocent children.’
TIMELINE OF NEGLECT: WHEN SOCIAL SERVICES VISITED AJ’S FAMILY HOME
Documents below, and obtained by DailyMail.com, reveal when social services visited AJ’s family home.