'We already know he's in heaven': Vigils honor the short life of Crystal Lake boy

Hundreds gathered Tuesday night in Crystal Lake for a vigil to honor the short and tragic life of Andrew “AJ” Freund, a 5-year-old boy who had been reported missing a week ago.

His body was found Wednesday in a shallow grave near Woodstock, and his parents were charged with murder. It was the end that everyone feared.

“We already know he's in heaven,” said Theresa Coleman, a McHenry resident who was among those who walked down leafy side streets to get to the now-empty home on Dole Avenue where AJ lived.

On the front lawn, a memorial of balloons, stuffed animals, signs and other items for the boy most didn't know has grown since he disappeared. Many who came Wednesday evening carried items to add. One homemade sign laid as a tribute read “Rest in Heaven” and another “Rest in Peace.”

Coleman, a former Crystal Lake resident, said she hasn't slept much since she began following the case. She brought her 9-year old daughter, Chloe Arelland, to the vigil.

“We're here to pay our respects for a little, innocent boy,” Coleman said.

So it was for everyone else looking to find an outlet for their sorrow. Many said AJ deserved better.

“There are no words for this little boy,” said Kim Zingrone, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. “I felt compelled to be here because I have children and grandchildren. I don't understand it.”

The backdrop was a formerly nice home that has become rundown and is in foreclosure.

Tracy Calhoun helped arrange the gathering. It had been in the works to mark a week since AJ disappeared but became much bigger after the news of his killing broke earlier in the day. She and a friend handed out 500 candles from paper shopping bags.

“This is a tragedy,” she said. “Everybody does just need to come together.”

At 7 p.m., the vigil began with only chirping birds and the cries of restless little ones breaking the silence. Many in the gathering held candles, and some dabbed at tears.

Someone came forward and said a prayer for solace and peace for those in distress. More prayers followed, as did soft renditions of the songs “You Are My Sunshine” and “Amazing Grace.”

Jen Beier, who lives nearby, brought her 10-year old daughter, Natalie.

“It makes you hold your loved ones a little closer,” she said.

A separate vigil was held Wednesday evening on the Woodstock Square.

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  A Wednesday night vigil in Crystal Lake drew hundreds looking for an outlet for their sorrow over the murder of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. John Starks/
  The memorial of balloons, stuffed animals, signs and other items for Andrew "AJ" Freund grew Wednesday night. John Starks/
  A woman looks up during a moment of silence Wednesday evening at a Crystal Lake vigil in memory of slain 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. John Starks/
  People gather for a vigil memorial on the Crystal Lake lawn of slain 5-year-old AJ Freund Wednesday following the announcement that his parents were charged with his murder. John Starks/
  Word of Wednesday's vigil in Crystal Lake spread on social media. John Starks/
  People begin to gather for a vigil on Wednesday night in front of the home of 5-year-old murder victim Andrew "AJ" Freund in Crystal Lake. John Starks/
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