Boy’s death shines light on system

CHICAGO — Disturbing details emerged Thursday of the torture authorities say preceded the beating death of a 5-year-old Illinois boy who had extensive contact with child welfare workers, escalating scrutiny of a state agency already being reviewed because of the recent deaths of two other children.

Court documents allege Andrew “AJ” Freund’s parents killed him by beating him and subjecting him to long, cold showers. An autopsy determined the boy died from blunt force trauma to his head and had been struck multiple times.

His plastic-wrapped body was found Wednesday in a shallow grave a few miles from the family’s home in Crystal Lake, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Chicago. Child welfare workers had been called repeatedly to the dilapidated and filthy house that stunk of dog feces.

Details of the gruesome death raised the question: Why did those workers not leave with the boy?

“This agency, there is no direction, no mission and it certainly has not been protecting children,” said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee.

Marc D. Smith, the new director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, will appear before lawmakers today.

The child’s parents, 36-year-old Joann Cunningham and 60-year-old Andrew Freund Sr., appeared in court Thursday on first-degree murder and other charges. A judge ordered both held in jail on $5 million bail.

Prosecutors read charging documents that alleged the boy was killed three days before his parents reported him missing last Thursday. The details fueled concern about how many other children could face the same kind of danger that “AJ” did in his short life.

“How many AJ’s are out there right now that we don’t know about?” asked Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, a member of the committee Feigenholtz chairs.

Birth tests revealed the boy had opiates in his bloodstream, the first of many troubling signals about danger to A.J. and his little brother that should have been red flags for an agency whose job it is to protect children, Feigenholtz said.