“Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Those heartbreaking words of A.J. Freund, 5, to an emergency room doctor have haunted the public since the boy from Crystal Lake was found dead on April 24.
He reportedly said those words to a doctor in December 2018 after speaking to an investigator from the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), which visited the family at least 17 times since A.J. was born.
A.J. was found in a shallow grave, and his parents, JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund, 60, have been charged with first-degree murder. They reported him missing on April 18, but authorities said the couple had already killed the child.
Prosecutors said A.J. was forced to stand in a cold shower for an extended period of time and was beaten to death.
Citizens wondered if DCFS could have done more, and two employees have been removed from casework.
The agency’s acting director, Marc Smith, said DCFS is conducting a review of A.J.’s case.
Mourners built a memorial outside A.J.’s home, leaving balloons and stuffed animals. However, nothing will bring the little boy back.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker reportedly plans to provide $75 million more in funding to DCFS, allowing for 126 new staff, including caseworkers and investigators.
DCFS employees undoubtedly have difficult jobs when it comes to separating children from their parents.
A neighbor reported seeing A.J. and his brother in the family’s car on a cold night in which their parents were fighting inside their home. Neither of the children was wearing shoes.
A.J. reportedly said his parents were going to kill each other, and if they didn’t, they would go on “an adventure” and stay at a hotel.
The neighbor went to call police, but when she returned, Cunningham yelled at her not to report the situation. The neighbor complied, but she said she had called police on other occasions.
Obviously, some people tried to get help for the family, but something went terribly wrong. One neighbor said A.J. “didn’t have a chance from the beginning.”
His mother and father are innocent until proven guilty, but their arrests seemed likely after officials learned more about the missing child.
Cunningham is pregnant, and we hope that the adults in charge at DCFS will ensure that this baby enjoys a safe and healthy life.