CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (CBS) — Dozens of people in Crystal Lake came together Sunday to celebrate the life of AJ Freund.
AJ would have turned 6 on Monday, but now, he is dead and his parents face murder charges. And as CBS 2’s Steven Graves reported, people are outraged.
The people who attended the march for AJ on Sunday didn’t care that it was a windy, chilly day. They walked miles, silently holding signs that screamed a message.
“Just outrage and just a real deep grieving for this child that never got a chance,” said Colleen Schor of Crystal Lake, who was holding a sign that read, “Hold DCFS Accountable, #DeliberateIndifference.”
Others showed pictures of a smiling and joyful AJ. On what would have been a happy day if AJ had lived, organizer Tracy Kotzman held back tears.
“Happy birthday,” she said. “I will do what I can to see that justice is served for you.”
AJ’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, and father, Andrew “Drew” Freund, stand accused of murdering their son.
Police and prosecutors have alleged AJs parents forced him into a cold shower as punishment for soiling his clothes and severely beat him on April 15.
His father later found him dead in his bed at their home in Crystal Lake and buried him in a shallow grave. AJ’s parents falsely reported him missing three days later.
For days, the community prayed AJ was alive. But police found AJ’s body wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave in Woodstock on April 24 and charged both of his parents with murder.
CBS 2’s Brad Edwards spoke to Cunningham in a CBS 2 exclusive interview that aired late last month. Cunningham told Edwards she did not kill AJ.
Edwards: “Did you kill AJ?”
Cunningham: “No. I would never hurt my children.”
Edwards: “Now, you say that, but some people will say you used drugs while you were pregnant.”
Cunningham: “I know, and that’s something I cannot take back.”
Cunningham also said: “If it’s Drew, then he needs to grow some balls and he needs to tell them so everyone isn’t suffering. You know, I’m scared.”
Schor was not impressed by Cunningham’s claims.
“I thought he did an excellent job in trying to draw her out, but she is a liar, and conniver,” Schor said.
“She just wouldn’t own it,” added another woman.
Many of the horrid details from investigators came out of the home where AJ is believed to have been abused and neglected.
Today, it’s boarded up. The City of Crystal Lake wants it torn down.
According to police reports from a visit to the home in December, officers noted they found the home covered in dog feces and urine, several broken windows, missing floor tiles, visible water damage and exposed water pipes in the ceiling, a door covered in a brown substance, and furniture covered in piles of clothing, boxes, and bags.
“I hope that they’re able to demolish this house of horrors, is what I would call it,” said April Montemira of Crystal Lake.
Some think the Illinois Department of Children and Family services also failed AJ, after a DCFS report revealed the boy was given back to his mother even after a doctor saw a mysterious bruise.
“I just feel keeping public pressure will ensure that they swiftly take action,” Kotzman said.
Those gathered for the walk Sunday said the justice for AJ is seeing his parent spend their lives in prison. But the case has to play out in court, and the marchers said they will be at every hearing.
Back in April, the DCFS said two of its workers were on administrative leave while the agency looked into their interaction with AJ’s family.