CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of mourners gathered at a Crystal Lake funeral home to pay their final respects to 5-year-old A.J. Freund, whose brutal murder has brought the community together in mourning.
“A.J.’s turned into everybody’s little boy, as a community, as a nation,” Davenport Funeral Home director Kim Nordin said.
A public visitation for A.J. was scheduled for 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Davenport Funeral Home, at 419 E. Terra Cotta Ave., and hundreds of people had lined up outside before the doors opened. Police have said they’re expecting a massive turnout, and asked anyone not attending the visitation to avoid the area.
The owners of Davenport Funeral Home volunteered their services for A.J.’s visitation after he was found dead and his parents were charged with beating him to death. They said, since then, they’ve received calls from all over the country from people asking how they can help.
“It’s just been an overwhelming response from the community. People have called from all over the country, and they just want to help. They want to look for any way they can help, and to honor him, and anything that they can do,” funeral home owner Jack Davenport said.
Nearby businesses offered their parking lots to those attending the visitation, and the owner of Twisted Stem flower shop next door was planning to make hundreds of blue bows for mourners to hang throughout Crystal Lake in honor of A.J.
“I have cuts in my fingers from the ribbon at this stage,” florist John Regan said. “My goal is, by noontime time today, I will have made a thousand bows.”
It’s a simple but much-needed gesture for a boy gone too soon, a child Regan never even met.
“It still is a very kind of simple gesture. It’s not as though I invented making bows, but it’s what I could do, and it’s something I could offer,” Regan said.
Comfort dogs will be at A.J.’s visitation to greet mourners waiting in line inside and outside the funeral home.
Family, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike are expected to attend the visitation. Visitors have been asked not to bring in cell phones, and absolutely no pictures should be taken.
A GoFundMe page to raise money for A.J.’s memorial service has raised nearly $59,000 so far, but because the funeral home is hosting the service for free, the money will go to A.J.’s brothers.
A.J.’s 18-year-old brother has been living with his maternal grandmother for years. His 4-year-old brother was removed from the family home after A.J. was reported missing. His parents have agreed to surrender custody to the state after they were charged with killing him.
Other family members, including A.J.’s grandmother want it known that he had other family.
“He does have a family that loves him, just like any family would love him. People wonder why they didn’t do anything, but they tried, but they could only do so much,” Nordin said.
A.J.’s grandmother told Nordin she wants people to know A.J. “was a happy little boy.”
“He was smiley and lovable and huggable, and he just loved playing and being a brother,” Nordin said. “He had people that loved him, and we have pictures. We have a picture board that they put together that conveys that, and just shows him as a normal little boy, just smiley and laughing and playing. It’s heartbreaking.”
A police report obtained by CBS 2 reveals the scene inside the family’s home the morning of April 18 when Andrew Freund called police to report his son missing.
The officer who arrived to take the report described Andrew Freund’s demeanor as calm and emotionless as he was talking about his son’s disappearance.
Police also noted Andrew did not have a photo of A.J. on his phone when the officer asked for one, and he confused AJ’s eye color as blue instead of brown.
“Andrew appeared very calm throughout my interaction with him, not showing much emotion when speaking about his missing child,” the report says.
JoAnn was described as frantic, crying and having scattered thoughts.
As the officer was interviewing them, JoAnn took a call from her incarcerated boyfriend.
“JoAnn had her phone on speaker and I heard her (boyfriend) ask her if she found AJ yet, though she never said he was lost while I was present at their residence,” the report says.
During a search of the home, the officer describes missing flooring in the kitchen and finding unsanitary conditions, including scattering cockroaches underneath piles of plastic bags and mouse droppings.
Police and prosecutors have said A.J.’s parents forced him to stand in a cold shower for an extended period of time on April 15, and beat him to death. His father, Andrew Freund Sr., allegedly buried him in a shallow grave in Woodstock, about seven miles from the family home, and tried to cover up the murder by reporting A.J. missing three days later.
After a six-day search, A.J.’s father led police to the boy’s body, after investigators confronted him with video from his mother’s cell phone, showing evidence of a severe beating a month earlier.
During their investigation, police uncovered a video A.J.’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, had deleted from her cell phone, showing the 5-year-old’s face and body covered in bruises as he was being berated for wetting the bed in March.
After A.J.’s father was confronted with the video, he allegedly blamed A.J.’s fatal injuries on his mother, and told police that the boy was faced to take a long cold shower on April 15 after he soiled his clothes.
“Drew explained that he wanted JoAnn to stop with the hard physical beatings and do some less violent form of punishment,” McHenry County Sheriff’s Detective Edwin Maldonado wrote in an affidavit describing the murder. “Drew said cold showers was decided.”
Freund Sr. allegedly told police he and Cunningham put A.J. to bed “cold, wet and naked” and later found him dead. A.J.’s father allegedly confessed to putting the boy’s body in a plastic container, and storing it in the basement, before burying him in Woodstock.
An autopsy determined A.J. died of multiple blunt force injuries to his head.
Cunningham has been charged with five counts of murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery, and one count of failure to report a missing child or child death.
Freund Sr. has been charged with five counts of murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of concealing a homicide, and one count of failure to report a missing child or child death. Both parents are being held on $5 million bail.
As AJ Freund’s parents sat in jail cells facing murder charges, thousands of mourners lined up to pay their respects at the Crystal Lake funeral home where the little boy was memorialized Friday.
Most of the people who showed up throughout the day Friday had never met AJ, but they felt the need to come together to try to make sense of the tragic loss and ask whether more could have been done to save him.
The grief being felt in the Crystal Lake community is something Rachael Winterling will not ignore.
She said she remembers A.J. trick-or-treating at her house last year.
“Coffins shouldn’t be that small, and it shouldn’t be him,” Winterling said.