In wake of boy’s murder, volunteers seek ways to help children in McHenry County courts

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — For many in the Crystal Lake community, the death of Andrew "AJ" Freund has become a call to action. Some answered the call Monday by attending an informational meeting that encouraged volunteers to get involved and potentially prevent another deadly case of child abuse.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are volunteers assigned to abused and neglected children whose cases are going through the court system. The volunteers are there to be the voice, eyes and ears for that child.

Todd Schroll is the president of CASA of McHenry County.

“These are young people who didn’t' make these choices and we have a responsibility to step up and help and make sure they have a pathway to a healthy future,” he said.

CASA workers met one of one with those attending the event and explained how the program works.

Because of privacy laws, CASA’s director could not confirm if AJ was assigned an advocate.

AJ’s parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew "Drew" Freund Sr. were charged with their son's murder and were accused of beating him to death in the shower and then burying him in a shallow grave in Woodstock.

Tammy Despain attended the meeting and said she has been deeply affected by AJ’s case. She said this is the perfect time in her life to give back.

“My grandkids are grown up and don't need me anymore,” she said. “I’ve been sitting here thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ And I think AJ gave me an answer in a strange way.”

There is an initial 40-hour training requirement to become a CASA volunteer. Following that, the commitment is between five to 10 hours a month.

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