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Column

Styf: Breaking our hearts, breaking our trust

Drew Freund exits the driver-side back seat of a Chevy Malibu as he returns home with a drink from Tommy's and two bags filled with various items on Monday, April 22, 2019 in Crystal Lake.
Drew Freund exits the driver-side back seat of a Chevy Malibu as he returns home with a drink from Tommy's and two bags filled with various items on Monday, April 22, 2019 in Crystal Lake.

Wednesday was a day we won’t soon forget in Crystal Lake. A day our hearts were broken.

A day we feared was coming.

Over the past week, as we learned more and more about the situation at the home in the first block of Dole Avenue, we certainly expected the worst.

For years, the conditions have been poor. For years, the children have not been properly cared for.

Wednesday, we learned much worse.

Andrew “A.J.” Freund, a 5-year-old set to start kindergarten in the fall, will never make it there.

Instead, his body was believed to be found wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave in unincorporated Woodstock. Crystal Lake police believe, based on their charges, that his parents put him there.

For days, both parents denied involvement. They asked for the community’s help and prayers in finding their son.

But, according to police, it was all a sham.

Tuesday night, mother JoAnn Cunningham spent hours with the authorities after her custody hearing on her younger son. And, at some point between then and Wednesday morning, both parents helped lead police to the location of their son’s body outside Woodstock.

To me, there is no worse breaking of trust.

They allegedly killed their child, they ran around town lying about it for days as police and the FBI worked tirelessly to build a case and they had the audacity to appear in court Tuesday to ask for their younger child to be returned before they finally broke.

They asked us to trust them, but they were allegedly lying all along.

Now, they are locked up and likely won’t see the light of day again for years, if ever.

Their late 5-year-old isn’t that lucky.

Now, after spending the past week looking into the history at that home, we will also look elsewhere to the systems we have in place to protect abused children in the Illinois Department of Child & Family Services.

The questions about DCFS, its funding and its processes are not new.

And the question remains on what it would take for DCFS to keep a child in custody.

In the case of the arrested couple’s 4-year-old son, we know that answer. And it’s not a great one to hear, because it took his brother’s death for the state to step in.

“DCFS processes must be examined top to bottom to determine where the breakdown in protective services is occurring,” State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, said in a news release. “DCFS must also let legislators know exactly what they need so that instances such as this can be prevented. We must work together to improve outcomes for children at risk. That work must begin immediately and it must include an honest discussion of Springfield’s spending priorities.”

If the hope is for something positive to come out of this tragedy, that is the takeaway.

The court cases for both Andrew Freund and JoAnn Cunningham won’t bring that satisfaction.

Solutions in DCFS funding and processes would.

In April 2017, Sema’j Crosby was killed at her family’s house in Joliet Township.

Similarly, that case showcased the failures of DCFS. But differently, no one has ever been charged in her death.

What’s true is that both cases are evidence that the state needs to do a better job of compiling its reports, informing all authorities involved, and removing children from these homes filled with neglect where they have ultimately died.

Let’s make A.J. Freund’s death mean something.

• Northwest Herald Editor Jon Styf can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com or 815-526-4630.

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