Authorities say they have found what they believe is the body of a 5-year-old Illinois boy who went missing last week. Parents charged in death.
AJ and his mother initially blamed bruising on the side of the boy’s leg in December on the family dog.
However, when a doctor pulled the child aside, AJ said, “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” records released by Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services show.
When state officials investigated the claim, they determined there wasn’t enough evidence to take AJ into protective custody, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“That piece was missed,” Anne Gold, DCFS associate deputy for child protection, admitted to state lawmakers Friday.
AJ’s body was found on Wednesday, covered in plastic and buried in Woodstock, Illinois, after his parents had reported him missing the week before, police said.
Andrew “Drew” Freund Sr. and Joann Cunningham now face murder charges in connection with the boy’s death.
An autopsy conducted Thursday determined the boy’s cause of death was “craniocerebral trauma as a consequence of multiple blunt force injuries,” according to the McHenry County Coroner’s Office.
The couple forced their son to stand in a cold shower for an extended period of time and then beat him, according to court documents.
The case is raising questions about Illinois’ child welfare system and what could have been done to remove the young boy from his parents’ custody sooner.
According to the Associated Press, AJ is the third child under the agency’s watch to die since February.
The caseworker and supervisor responsible for AJ’s case were placed on administrative duty and won’t work with families during a review, DCFS said.
Police had responded to the Freund family home 17 times for allegations of abuse and drug use, Chicago station WLS-TV reported, and the DCFS’ interactions with the family concerning AJ began when the child was born with opiates in his system.
In one instance when police responded, they described the house covered in dog feces and urine, and in a child’s room the “smell of feces was overwhelming.” Another time, police said the house was “cluttered, dirty and in disrepair.”
AJ’s brother was removed from the home and placed in DCFS care after AJ was reported missing. AJ’s mother is also currently seven months pregnant, and DCFS would take protective custody unless of the child there are plans to place the child with a family member, an agency spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune.
Contributing: Brett Molina, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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