CHICAGO (CBS) — Four months before 5-year-old A.J. Freund’s parents allegedly beat him to death, there appear to be significant discrepancies between a police report noting deplorable conditions inside the family’s house and a home visit by a DCFS investigator the next day, which ultimately deemed an allegation of neglect to be unfounded.
A.J. was found dead Wednesday, buried in a shallow grave near Woodstock, about seven miles from his home in Crystal Lake. His parents, 36-year-old JoAnn Cunningham 60-year-old Andrew Freund Sr., have been charged with murder, accused of forcing him to stand in a cold shower for an extended period of time, and beating him, causing him to die from blunt force trauma to the head.
In the wake of A.J.’s murder, DCFS is conducting a review of its involvement with A.J.’s family, and the caseworker and supervisor responsible for this case have been placed on administrative duty. They will not have any involvement in casework pending the results of the DCFS review. The agency also will review all other cases those two employees have handled.
According to the latest timeline released by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the agency investigated the family for allegations of neglect four months before A.J.’s death. But discrepancies between an investigator’s findings and Crystal Lake police reports raise questions about the child welfare agency’s handling of the case.
A DCFS investigator interviewed Cunningham at the Crystal Lake police station on Dec. 18, 2018 and visited the family home the next day, after receiving a report A.J. and his younger brother were being neglected, and A.J. had suffered cuts, welts, and bruises.
According to reports released by the Crystal Lake Police Department, Cunningham called police from the parking lot of a Taco Bell to report a burglary. After meeting her at the Taco Bell, an officer followed her home, where four officers noted deplorable conditions inside the house on Dec. 18.
Officers noted they found “dog feces and urine were scattered about the residence,” several windows were open or broken, a fireplace used for heating that was in disrepair, tiles were missing from the kitchen floor, the kitchen ceiling had visible water damage and exposed water pipes, a door appeared to be covered in a brown substance, a couch in the living room was covered in piles of clothing, the dining room was filled with clothes, boxes, and bags.
Police also stated the boys’ bedroom window was open and “the smell of feces was overwhelming” in their room.
Officers also noticed A.J. was wearing only a pull-up and had a suspicious bruise. Cunningham allegedly told police she hadn’t noticed the bruise before, and said it must have come from their dog. Cunningham was arrested because she had been driving on a suspended license, officers brought both boys to the police station, and called DCFS.
A.J. told an investigator “he received the bruise when the family dog pawed at him,” but a doctor told the investigator A.J. claimed “maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
However, the doctor reported he could not determine how the injury was caused and it could have been from a dog or a football. The investigator called the boys’ father to pick them up from the hospital.
As for the conditions inside the home, while Cunningham admitted to dog feces and urine inside the home on Dec. 18, when the investigator visited the home the next day, the investigator reported only a “slight odor of dog urine,” and found no feces or dog urine on the floor. The investigator also reported the living room and dining room were cluttered with clothes and toys; but the kitchen was clean, and the ceiling was not falling, but the floor was missing tile.
The investigator later spoke to a past investigator regarding the case, and on Jan. 4, 2019, DCFS deemed the report unfounded “due to lack of evidence for cuts, welt and bruises allegation.”
DCFS involvement with A.J.’s family dates back to more than a year before he was born, when Cunningham was a foster mother.
According to the DCFS timeline, their first investigation involving A.J.’s mother was in June 2012, when someone called their hotline, accusing Cunningham of inadequate supervision, specifically claiming she was abusing drugs and neglecting her foster child. The report was deemed unfounded and the record was expunged, according to DCFS.
Six months later, the agency received another call alleging “environmental neglect and injurious environment” involving her older son, who is now 18 and living with a different family. She again was accused of abusing prescription drugs, and allegedly was suffering mental health problems. This report also was deemed unfounded and expunged.
When A.J. was born in October 2013, DCFS received another report accusing Cunningham of substance abuse, and both she and A.J. tested positive for opiates and benzodiazepines (anxiety medication). Officials removed A.J. from the home, and a juvenile court judge granted DCFS temporary custody of the boy in November 2013. He was then placed in foster care with a cousin.
In November 2013, Cunningham and Freund Sr. began participating in parenting classes and drug treatment, including individual counseling.
In June 2015, a judge ordered A.J. to be returned to his mother’s custody.
That was followed by a series of 17 unannounced visits and nine scheduled visits by DCFS to the parents’ home between June 2015 and April 2016. A case worker did not find any signs of abuse or neglect during those visits.
In April 2016, the juvenile court closed A.J.’s case, and DCFS ceased monitoring the family.
In March 2018, DCFS received a new tip of “alleged substantial risk of physical injury” and neglect against A.J.’s parents, stating Cunningham was brought to a hospital emergency room after she was found passed out in a car. A.J. was seen with “odd bruising on his face” at the hospital.
A DCFS investigator tried three times to see A.J. and his younger brother in March and April 2018 without success, but then was able to meet with Cunningham and the two boys on April 25, 2018, as the boys were playing on the driveway outside their home.
The investigator noted the boys appeared to be clean and saw no signs of mistreatment.
Less than a month later, the DCFS investiator completed a final safety assessment of the home, noting both boys were clean and properly dressed, and the home appeared to be clean and adequately furnished. Cunningham reported her history of drug abuse and ongoing drug treatment. DCFS confirmed she was participating in drug treatment and deemed the March 2018 report of neglect unfounded.
A.J.’s younger brother was removed from the family home when A.J. went missing, and is in foster care with cousins. DCFS said a medical exam revealed he was healthy with no visible signs of abuse or neglect.
Explore the timeline of his disappearance and follow developments in the case here.
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