Illinois boy found buried in shallow grave; parents charged

  • This combination April 24, 2019 booking photos provided by the Crystal Lake, Ill., Police Department shows JoAnn Cunningham and her husband, Andrew Freund Sr. On Wednesday, authorities dug up the body of a 5-year-old boy, believed to be Andrew "AJ" Freund, who was reported missing the previous week and charged his parents with murder and other counts. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)

  • McHenry County Coroner investigators load the body of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund into a minivan at a wooded area off Dean Street Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Woodstock, Ill. The boy's parents have been charged with his murder. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP) John J. Kim

  • Crystal Lake, Ill., Police Chief James Black, left, and FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Sallet announce during a press conference Wednesday that the parents of Andrew "AJ" Freund are responsible for his death, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Paul Valade/Daily Herald via AP) Paul Valade

  • This undated photo provided by the Crystal Lake, Illinois Police Department shows Andrew "AJ" Freund. Crystal Lake police say the missing boy's Freund's parents last saw him about 9 p.m. Wednesday April 17, 2019. Police say Andrew's parents reported him missing when they woke up Thursday and couldn't find him in their home. Police in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake say an FBI team that specializes in missing children is helping them search for the 5-year-old boy. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)

  • Mourners view a growing memorial outside the home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Crystal Lake, Ill. Andrew's body was found in a wooded area in Woodstock Wednesday, and the boy's parents have been charged with his murder. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP) John J. Kim

  • Mourners gather outside the home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund for a vigil Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Crystal Lake, Ill. Andrew's body was found in a wooded area in Woodstock Wednesday, and the boy's parents have been charged with his murder. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP) John J. Kim

  • A woman and child hug near a memorial outside the home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Crystal Lake, Ill. Andrew's body was found in a wooded area in Woodstock Wednesday, and the boy's parents have been charged with his murder. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP) John J. Kim

  • In this April 24, 2019 booking photo provided by the Crystal Lake Police Department of Joann Cunningham who along with her husband Andrew Freund Sr. have been charged with murder and other charges in the death of their missing son Andrew "AJ" Freund. Authorities say they have found what they believe is the body of the 5-year-old boy who went missing last week. Crystal Lake police Chief James Black said at a news conference Wednesday that police dug up what they believe is Freund's body in a field and that it was wrapped in plastic. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)

  • In this April 24, 2019 is a booking photo provided by the Crystal Lake Police Department of Andrew Freund Sr, who along with his wife Joann Cunningham, have been charged with murder and other charges in the death of their missing son Andrew "AJ" Freund. Authorities say they have found what they believe is the body of the 5-year-old boy who went missing last week. Crystal Lake police Chief James Black said at a news conference Wednesday that police dug up what they believe is Freund's body in a field and that it was wrapped in plastic. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)

  • JoAnn Cunningham, mother of missing 5-year-old child Andrew "AJ" Freund, stands with her attorney George Killis outside of the Freund home as he speaks on her behalf and pleads with the public to help find AJ on Friday, April 19, 2019 in Crystal Lake, Ill. Crystal Lake police said Friday that they have no indication Andrew "AJ" Freund was abducted. They say canine units only picked up the boy's scent within the residence, which indicates Andrew didn't leave on foot. Police say Andrew's parents last saw him about 9 p.m. Wednesday and reported him missing Thursday when they woke up and couldn't find him in the home. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune via AP) Stacey Wescott

  • Andrew Freund Sr., the father of the missing 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund, walks near his home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake, Ill. on Friday, April 19, 2019 as members of the media try to speak with him. Police are investigating the boy's disappearance and are focusing their attention on the boy's home. (John Starks/Daily Herald via AP) John Starks

  • A blood hound K-9 officer and his handler sniffs the ground in front of the home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund on Thursday, April 18, 2019 in Crystal Lake, Ill. Crystal Lake police said Friday that they have no indication Andrew "AJ" Freund was abducted. They say canine units only picked up the boy's scent within the residence, which indicates Andrew didn't leave on foot. Police say Andrew's parents last saw him about 9 p.m. Wednesday and reported him missing Thursday when they woke up and couldn't find him in the home. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune via AP) Stacey Wescott

  • Law enforcement personnel remove items from the Freund home in Crystal Lake, Ill., as the investigation into the case of missing 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund continues on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Robert McCoppin/Chicago Tribune via AP) Robert McCoppin

  • FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Sallet speaks during a Crystal Lake, Ill. press conference Wednesday, April 24, 2019 about the parents of Andrew "AJ" Freund being charged for his death. (Paul Valade/Daily Herald via AP) Paul Valade

  • A McHenry County Coroner investigator walks to her vehicle at a wooded area off Dean Street Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Woodstoc, Ill. 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund was found at the location, and the boy's parents have been charged with his murder. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP) John J. Kim

Published: 4/25/2019 11:40:15 AM

Authorities searching for a missing 5-year-old Illinois boy who had lived in deplorable conditions dug up his body Wednesday and charged his parents with murder, sadly declaring that the youngster would “no longer have to suffer.”

The body, believed to be that of Andrew “AJ” Freund, was covered in plastic and buried in a shallow grave in a rural area of Woodstock in McHenry County, Crystal Lake police Chief James Black said.

Black said investigators went to the site after they interviewed the boy’s parents overnight and presented them with cellphone evidence. Woodstock is about 50 miles northwest of Chicago and a few miles from the family’s home in Crystal Lake.

“This is not the outcome that we want to talk about ... but it is the unfortunate result,” said Jeffrey Sallet, who runs the FBI in northern Illinois.

The parents, Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, each face charges of first-degree murder and other crimes. An email seeking comment was sent to Cunningham’s lawyer. It wasn’t immediately known if Freund has a lawyer.

The couple reported AJ missing last Thursday, telling officers they had last seen him at bedtime the previous night. Freund told a dispatcher that they’d checked “closets, the basement, the garage, everywhere,” but investigators quickly knocked down the possibility of a kidnapping.

Speaking to reporters, Black had a message for AJ’s relatives: “It is my hope that you may have some solace in knowing that AJ is no longer suffering and his killers have been brought to justice.”

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.

Black said the cause of AJ’s death remains under investigation. Police removed several items from the home, including a shovel, mattress, paper bags and a plastic storage tub.

“We know you are at peace playing in heaven’s playground and are happy you no longer have to suffer,” the police chief said in a public message intended for the boy.

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.




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