Authorities: Andrew 'AJ' Freund died of head trauma days before dad reported him missing

Crystal Lake 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund died from being hit multiple times on the head three days before his father called 911 to report the boy missing, authorities said Thursday.

The child had been forced into a cold shower for an extended period of time and had been struck repeatedly, causing his death, statements from prosecutors and from McHenry County interim Coroner David Devane said.

His father is accused of burying the child in a shallow grave seven miles from his home on April 15, then waiting three days before calling 911 to say the boy had gone missing overnight, according to criminal complaints filed Thursday morning and earlier police statements.

His parents, JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund Sr., 60, each are being held on $5 million bail after separate court hearings before Judge Mark Gerhardt Thursday in McHenry County. Prosecutors sought bails of $10 million for each as both face multiple charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, domestic battery and failure to report a missing child or child death.

Freund Sr. faces an additional charge of concealment of a death, as he is accused of burying his son's body, court documents say. The boy's body, wrapped in plastic, was recovered Wednesday from a shallow grave in a semirural area off Dean Street north of Route 176.

The two appeared separately in bond court wearing orange prison jumpsuits and represented by assistant public defenders. Cunningham shook her head as her charges were read, but otherwise neither showed any signs of emotion as their bonds were set.

Both Cunningham and Freund are scheduled to return to court at 9 a.m. Monday. Each faces up to life in prison on the murder charge alone.

After the bond hearings, inmates appeared to hang letters reading "RIP AJ" in a cellblock window above the entry to the McHenry County jail.

Prosecutors said both parents gave authorities information regarding the location of the boy's body after being presented with an analysis of cellphone data.

An autopsy was performed Thursday. Devane reported only that the body had been definitively identified as AJ's and that the cause of death was "craniocerebral trauma as a consequence of multiple blunt force injuries."

AJ was born in 2013 with opiates in his system, triggering the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services' first interaction with Cunningham and Freund Sr. The boy was removed from their custody a month after he was born and placed in foster care, but he was returned to Cunningham and Freund Sr. in June 2015, DCFS records show.

DCFS was asked to investigate the family again in March 2018 but determined allegations of neglect to be unfounded. The agency was called again in December by police after Cunningham was arrested on a misdemeanor traffic charge. Police documented significant problems with the couple's home on Dole Avenue, including an "overwhelming" stench of feces in the boys' bedroom. Again, DCFS determined the allegations of neglect to be unfounded.

Patty Kokonas, a Crystal Lake resident, was the only person not from the media to attend the couple's bond hearings. Afterward, she criticized DCFS' role.

"It's terrible. Why couldn't they come and help them and do something for them? I think it's really awful," Kokonas said. "I blame DCFS and I feel terrible for this 3-year-old who has to grow up without his brother."

When AJ was reported missing April 18, DCFS removed the couple's younger son and placed him in protective custody.

On Wednesday, DCFS in a statement described the confirmation of his death as heartbreaking and that it's priority was care and safety of AJ's younger brother.

"The department is committed to conducting a comprehensive review of the entirety of our work with Andrew's family to understand any shortcomings and to be fully transparent with the public on any steps we are taking to address the issues," the statement read.

On Thursday, a memorial of candles, stuffed animals, balloons and other items had grown to encompass an area near the front of the home. Well wishers stopped continuously through the day, and by midafternoon about a dozen people lingered.

Janelle Butler, who lives across the street, said neighbors had suspected from the beginning that the truth of AJ's disappearance had not been told.

"Everybody just wants to know what happened and how did that happen," she said, as police on traffic duty and TV crews again were stationed outside.

"Why would you want to kill a child?" she asked. "That doesn't make any sense to me."

• Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this story.

Police focus investigation on missing Crystal Lake boy's house

Search for 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy focused on residence

Police still investigating Crystal Lake boy's disappearance; parents attend vigil

'We remain hopeful we're going to find him alive' Father of missing Crystal Lake boy continues search

Missing boy's brother will remain in state care as hearing continued

'Smell of feces was overwhelming': Police reports detail problems in missing Crystal Lake boy's home

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

Crystal Lake residents angry, heartbroken after boy's body found

What we know about AJ's death

Authorities: Parents charged with murder after directing police to Crystal Lake boy's grave

Illinois boy found buried in shallow grave; parents charged

'DCFS is afraid of getting sued' Experts weigh in on why AJ's parents retained custody

Public visitation service set for Andrew “AJ” Freund

Andrew "AJ" Freund.
  A sign reading "RIP AJ" is posted in a cellblock window of the McHenry County jail. Justin Kmitch/
  A Crystal Lake police officer stands watch Wednesday outside the home of Andrew "AJ" Freund after the announcement that his parents were being charged in his death. Paul Valade/
  People gathered Wednesday for a memorial vigil at the home of 5-year-old murder victim Andrew "AJ" Freund in Crystal Lake. John Starks/
  Hundreds of people turned out for Wednesday night's vigil in Crystal Lake in memory of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund, whose parents have been charged with his murder. John Starks/
  A curbside memorial to 5-year old Andrew "AJ" Freund, whose body was recovered Wednesday, grew overnight to encompass an area at the front of the Crystal Lake home where he had lived. Mick Zawislak/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.