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A 5-year-old Illinois boy allegedly beaten to death by his parents made heartbreaking excuses for his mother to an emergency room doctor months before his life was tragically cut short.
Andrew "AJ" Freund had been removed from his home by authorities and taken to the emergency room back in December with bruising on his hip - an injury that would later be attributed to his family's dog pawing at him. But records released by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services reveal a potentially telling, and troubling, comment he made to the doctor examining him.
“The doctor reported injury could have been caused by a dog, belt or a football,” DCFS wrote. “The doctor was concerned because Andrew stated that, 'Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.'"
On Wednesday, AJ's body was discovered in a shallow grave in a remote area of Woodstock, Illinois, days after his parents had reported him missing. Authorities quickly ruled out abduction as a possibility and began focusing their attention on those parents, JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund Sr., 60, ultimately charging each with five counts of murder after the boy's body was found.
They appeared in court Thursday as prosecutors described the boy's violent end, allegedly being forced to sit in a cold shower before being beaten all over his body until he died.
But his death wasn't the first sign of trouble in the family, as the DCFS had multiple interactions with them over the course of AJ's life. The DCFS provided a timeline of those encounters to Oxygen.com on Friday, which shed further light on the boy and his family - and raise questions about whether DCFS could have done more to protect him.
Their first interaction with the family was in 2012, before the victim was even born, when Cunningham was reported for both inadequate supervision and neglect, allegations that DCFS determined to be “unfounded.”
When AJ was born in 2013, Cunningham’s toxicology screen tested positive for opiates and benzodiazepines, according to DCFS, so he was taken away from her and placed with a relative. But only for a while - he was reunited with his mother at 18 months old.
In March 2018, DCFS investigated allegations of neglect by both parents but they closed that case by May. Then, in December, little AJ was removed from the family home for the bruising on his hip that was later attributed to the dog.
While police visiting the family's home “observed the ceiling falling down, the floor torn up, and the kids’ bedroom smelled of dog urine,” DCFS concluded "there was no evidence to support deplorable conditions in the home. The investigation is closed in January as unfounded.”
By April, AJ was dead.
DCFS has placed two staff members involved in AJ’s case on administrative duty, pending a review of the agency’s “shortcomings,” acting director Marc Smith told the Chicago Tribune.
Cunningham, who is 7 months pregnant, is now facing five counts of first-degree murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing or child death. Freund Sr. has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of concealment of homicidal death and one count of failure to report missing or child death.
Both parents are being held on $5 million bond.
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