The demolition company and workers tearing down the suburban Chicago home where a couple allegedly beat their 5-year-old son Andrew "AJ" Freund to death are performing the work for free because they were so moved by the young boy's story.
Chicago-based Green Demolition Contractors, Inc. began demolition of the dilapidated home at 94 Dole Avenue early Wednesday.
Laura Hayes, the company's controller, said she and owner Mike Brough heard about the project and knew the city had put out for a bid to tear the home down, receiving bids from multiple companies.
"I said to my boss, 'Nobody should profit from this,'" Hayes said. "He agreed to do it for free. My boss has five children - he was moved by the story."
Legally, Hayes said the company had to do the work for $10, a fee the Northwest Herald reported the city was required to pay to create a contract between the two entities.
"The union that represents the men working today was gracious— all men working on demolishing the home donated their time," Hayes said. "They’re all parents themselves."
"With the money saved, the city of Crystal Lake should build a park or a garden in honor of little AJ," she continued. "We would love to see the property transformed to show other kids in the neighborhood this is what love does."
Last April, Andrew Freund Sr., 60, and Joann Cunningham, 36, were accused of fatally beating 5-year-old AJ to death inside the home and burying his body in a field in a nearby suburb.
Freund Sr. called police on Apr. 18 to report AJ missing, telling a dispatcher that he and Cunningham last saw the boy while putting him to bed the night before and that they'd checked "closets, the basement, the garage, everywhere," in the house to no avail, according to the 911 call.
But investigators quickly knocked down the possibility of a kidnapping, saying there were no signs that AJ had been forcibly removed from the home.
Police said both parents were questioned and after investigators confronted them with cell phone data evidence "both Joann and Andrew Sr. provided information that ultimately led to the recovery" of AJ's body, Crystal Lake police said at the time.
Cunningham and Freund Sr. were each indicted on 20 charges apiece in connection with AJ's death, including first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child, among others.
The dilapidated home at 94 Dole Avenue sat boarded up for months, condemned by the city of Crystal Lake as the property remained tied up in foreclosure litigation.
A May inspection revealed risks to the public, deeming the property unsafe following multiple violations. Inspectors found black mold, a rodent infestation, excessive trash, broken utilities, exposed wires and no working smoke detectors, records showed.
In a complaint filed with McHenry County on July 10, the city requested to demolish the property, noting the more than $100,000 it would cost to repair the home.
In November, a judge gave Crystal Lake permission to demolish the house.
Some residents said they support tearing it down and others have suggested on social media that a memorial park be built on the lot, honoring the child whose death shook not just the northwest Chicago suburb, but the country.
"I’m very excited to see this house go," said Terra Bedi, an area resident who showed up at the demolition site Wednesday in a shirt bearing a photo of AJ.
"What bothers me about this house is what went on in this house," she continued, calling the allegations of abuse "disgusting."
"I’m glad that this construction company is doing this for free for the community, and it’s about time someone does this," Bedi said, adding that she hoped the community plants a tree, builds a bench, or does something to honor AJ's memory.
"Sometimes I cry when I drive past this house, other times I just get sick to my stomach like I am right now. It’s just like, you know that this kid was tortured to death by his parents and no parent should do this to a child. In fact, no one should do this to a child."
Cunningham changed her plea to guilty earlier this year and will face 20 to 60 years in prison. She is expected to learn her sentence on April 30, a judge ruled Thursday.
Freund Sr. also appeared in court Thursday and waived a trial by jury. He is next expected to appear in court on April 24.