Hundreds honor 5-year-old AJ Freund at suburban vigils

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CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — Hundreds of people gathered at vigils in Crystal Lake and Carpentersville on Friday night to honor 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. School buses were tied with blue ribbons in his memory.

AJ was found dead Wednesday in a shallow grave in Woodstock. He’d been reported missing nearly a week earlier.

His parents, Andrew Freund Sr., 60, and JoAnn Cunningham, 36, have been charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors said the couple forced the boy to stand in a cold shower for an “extended period” of time, then beat him to death. Bond was set at $5 million each.

DCFS has had extensive contact with AJ’s family over the years, ever since the boy was born in 2013 with opiates in his system. At one point, he was placed in foster care for nearly two years.

The tragedy left many in the community reeling.

"I have two grandchildren who are almost the same age as AJ," said Nora Gibby, who attended a vigil at Lippold Park. "It has devastated me. It’s consumed me for a full week. It’s horrible. I don’t understand how a parent can do this to a child."

"It causes me to hold my kids a little bit closer at night and tell them, 'I love you,'" Barry Drew said. "It’s been so difficult. So emotional over the last week."

Just before Christmas, police were called to the Freund home when AJ was seen with a large bruise on his hip. AJ told the doctor “maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”

Both the DCFS caseworker and the supervisor responsible in his case have been placed on administrative duty as a review takes place.

A public visitation for AJ will take place from 1-8 p.m. Friday at Davenport Family Funeral Home in Crystal Lake.

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