Six weeks before the parents charged with Andrew “A.J.” Freund’s murder reported their 5-year-old missing, his mother allegedly filmed a video on her phone that showed the boy badly beaten.
In the March 4 video, a voice that appears to be A.J.’s mom is overheard “berating A.J. for urinating on his bed,” according to a court document in the case obtained by PEOPLE. The boy himself is seen lying on the bare mattress, “naked except for some small bandages around both wrists and circling his hips,” the document states.
It continues: “A.J. is seen to be holding an ice pack to his face and when he removes it he is seen to have deep red bruising around his eyes, and yellowish-green bruising around his neck and upper chest. It did not appear from the video that A.J. received professional medical attention.”
On April 24 — nine days after police say A.J. died, and six days after the parents reported A.J. missing — his father was confronted with the video, and then led police to the shallow grave where he allegedly buried the boy, who’d been wrapped in plastic, according to the court document.
Parents JoAnn Cunningham, 35, and Andrew “Drew” Freund, 60, of Crystal Lake, Illinois, are behind bars in lieu of $5 million bail each and together face multiple charges that include first-degree murder, aggravated battery, and failure to report a child missing. Freund also is charged with concealment of a homicide.
Their attorneys did not return PEOPLE’s calls for comment.
The description of the video appears in a sworn statement by McHenry County sheriff’s Detective Edwin Maldonado that accompanies a request for a search warrant in the case.
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The parents had said they last saw A.J. when they put him to bed on April 17, and reported him missing the next morning. Forensic analysis of Cunningham’s cell phone later discovered the video, which police shared with Freund in the early hours of April 24.
Freund allegedly blamed the boy’s mother for the injuries seen on the video, and then offered an expanded explanation for later events that allegedly preceded the boy’s death, according to the document.
Prosecutors earlier alleged that Freund and Cunningham forced the child to take a cold shower for an extended period of time and beat him before he died. Autopsy results show he died of multiple blunt force injuries to the head.
The boy’s father “said that he believed A.J. died on Monday morning (April 15) after spending a prolonged time in a cold shower,” according to the document. “Drew explained he wanted JoAnn to stop with the hard physical beatings and do some less violent form of punishment. Drew said cold showers was decided (as the alternative).”
The document continues: “Drew said on or about … 4/15/19, A.J. had lied about soiled underwear and he was subjected to a cold shower. Drew said he helped A.J. out of the shower after he’d been there approximately 20 minutes, and put A.J. to bed ‘cold, wet, and naked.’”
“Drew said JoAnn got up and checked on A.J. and that was when she got Drew and used Drew’s phone to search for child CPR. Drew advised at some point that he believed A.J. had died.”
“Drew said the next day he took A.J.’s body to the basement and stored him in a tote. He said on the night of 4/17/19 he placed Andrew inside of several trash bags, placed the body in the trunk of his car, and drove him to an area in Woodstock. Drew said he dug a shallow grave for A.J., placed him in it, covered it with straw, and left.”
The state’s Department of Child and Family Services had visited the family’s home at least 17 times since A.J.’s birth, records show. Four months before his body was recovered, the boy reportedly wasn’t sure what to tell an ER doctor about the huge bruise on his hip that police had noticed when they responded to a hotline call about the family.
At first, A.J. told an investigator from DCFS that he got the bruise “when the family dog pawed him,” according to a timeline released by the department that described its dealings with the boy’s family, multiple outlets including CBS 2 Chicago, CNN, and the Chicago Tribune report.
But A.J. told a different story when he was in the emergency room, according to the timeline.
“Maybe someone hit me with a belt,” the report shows he told the ER doctor. “Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Unable to determine the cause of the bruise, the doctor determined that A.J. could have gotten it from “a dog, belt or football,” according to the DCFS timeline.
The case was closed a month later for lack of evidence. The next time authorities were at the home came in response to Freund’s April 18 call that his son was missing.
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