Prosecutors: 5-year-old Illinois boy apparently beaten to death following forced cold shower

WOODSTOCK, Ill. — Bond was set at $5 million each for the parents of AJ Freund Thursday morning, April 25.

Andrew Freund Sr., 60, and JoAnn Cunningham, 36, appeared in McHenry County Court Thursday morning. They both opted for public defenders.

WGN was in court and said the mother, who is seven months pregnant, cried while listening to the charges, shaking her head upon hearing "aggravated battery." Freund Sr. remained stoic throughout his hearing, even as prosecutors revealed that AJ died after being struck on his body following a forced cold shower for what was described as "an extended time." The young boy was apparently beaten to death. The parents will be arraigned April 29.

Both face multiple charges including five counts of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and a count of failure to report a missing child or death. Freund is also charged with concealing a homicide.

Confronted with forensic evidence, both parents gave up information which led to locating AJ's body Wednesday in Woodstock. Police said the body was wrapped in plastic and in a shallow grave.

Possibly linked to the boy's death are the dirty shovel, toddler mattress, large plastic tub and several bags of evidence removed from the family home Wednesday.

Animal control was also called to take custody of the family dog.

Both parents claimed they last saw AJ after he went to bed the night of April 17. On April 18, the father placed a 911 call, calmly reporting that his son was missing. Freund Sr. told a dispatcher that they'd checked "closets, the basement, the garage, everywhere," but investigators quickly knocked down the possibility of a kidnapping.

Crystal Lake police had visited the house over the years, according to records released by the department. One report described the home as littered with dog feces and urine, including a child's bedroom where the "smell of feces was overwhelming." Another report said the house was "cluttered, dirty and in disrepair," and sometimes without electricity.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, known as DCFS, had contact with the family since AJ was born with opiates in his body in 2013. The Northwest Herald said he was in foster care for two years before being returned to his parents. A younger brother was removed from the home last week.

DCFS acting director Marc Smith said AJ's death was "heartbreaking."

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

Gov. J.B. Pritzker in March ordered an independent review of DCFS after the deaths of a 2-year-old girl in Decatur and a 2-year-old boy in Chicago. Child welfare workers had contacts with both families.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, immediately called for "an independent, comprehensive audit of the DCFS hotline."

"As with many other deaths, it seems the system designed to protect Illinois' children did not work in AJ Freund's case," Morrison said in a statement.

An autopsy on the recovered body was scheduled for Thursday.

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