The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will review its “shortcomings” when dealing with the family of a Crystal Lake boy whose body was believed to have been found in a shallow grave Wednesday—six days after he was reported missing, the agency’s actor director said.
Joann Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr. were both charged with the death and disappearance of their son Andrew “AJ” Freund, police said. Authorities said a body wrapped in plastic was uncovered from a remote location in the northwestern suburb of Woodstock, just miles from the Crystal Lake home where the boy was reported missing.
“This news is heartbreaking,” DCFS acting director Marc Smith said in a statement. “Protecting vulnerable children who come to our attention is at the core of our mission at DCFS. All of us feel this loss. Our priority is the care and safety of Andrew’s younger sibling. We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation. 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.”
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks hopes AJ Freund’s death leads to improvements in protecting other children.
"Obviously there were some mistakes made," he told NBC 5. "I don’t want to point fingers. I’m not sure what happened. We have to do some soul searching."
DCFS released a timeline last week detailing its interactions with AJ's family over five years. The agency said AJ was born with opioids in his system.
"In this state, if you have opioids in your system, they take away your driver’s license. Right?" Franks said. "You can’t drive. But here, they give you your kid back."
Police said both parents were questioned overnight and into Wednesday morning after information was obtained during a "forensic analysis of cell phone data."
"Once presented with the evidence obtained by investigators, both Joann and Andrew Sr. provided information that ultimately led to the recovery, what we believe is the recovery of deceased subject AJ," Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black.
The cause of death was not immediately known and police said it would be determined "at a later date."
"To AJ’s family, it is our hope that you may have some solace in knowing that AJ is no longer suffering and his killers have been brought to justice," Black said. "We would also like to thank the community for their support and assistance during this difficult time. To AJ, we know you are at peace playing in heaven’s playground and are happy you no longer have to suffer."
Wednesday marked one week since AJ's parents said they last saw the child, putting him to bed at their home in northwest suburban Crystal Lake.
The following morning, Freund Sr. called police to report that his son was not in the house and that they had canvassed the neighborhood, went to a local park, checked an area gas station and called his school - but AJ was nowhere to be found, according to the 911 call released Tuesday.
Law enforcement and first responders descended on a large wooded area in Woodstock Wednesday morning. At the same time, police were seen searching the family's home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake.
Moments later, evidence technicians brought items from an evidence van into the Crystal Lake police station. Those items included a mattress, a large bin, two large brown bags, and an item that appeared to be a shovel with a long wooden handle.
Police scoured the area surrounding the family's home for days after the boy's disappearance, searching hundreds of acres of land and water before centering their investigation on the house, saying they found no evidence of an abduction.
The boy's parents initially told authorities that they put him to bed at their home around 9:30 p.m. on April 17.
"We have a missing child," the father told dispatchers at the beginning of the 911 call the next morning, later saying they had checked "closets, the basement, the garage, everywhere" in the house to no avail.
On Tuesday, McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally urged anyone who may know something to come forward. Kenneally said the worst thing someone could do in the case would be to conceal the truth.
“We will literally be working on this case every day until we find AJ or get justice for him," he said.
Police also asked the public for any video surveillance from the area in the days leading up the time the boy went missing, specifically for video taken between 7 a.m. on April 15 and 9 a.m. on April 18.
"This would include video from home surveillance devices like the Ring Home Security System," police said in a statement Tuesday, asking the public to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The missing boy's father continued to stay at the family’s home throughout the search, meeting with investigators over the weekend.
"I have no control over what people think," Freund Sr. said over the weekend. "I just want my son to come home, OK?"
Cunningham retained an attorney early in the investigation and was not cooperating with police based on advice from her lawyer, who said she was being treated as a suspect and alleged authorities had stopped searching for the boy - a claim Crystal Lake police denied.
Both parents appeared Tuesday in McHenry County Circuit Court for a custody hearing related to their other son, who was taken into custody by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services the day AJ was reported missing.
The hearing was continued, with the next hearing set for Monday at 9 a.m. CST.