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Mother of missing boy describes son as 'super sharp and smart' and a 'good big brother' who loves to draw

Amanda Marrazzo, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. -- As Easter morning began and many children prepared to hunt for Easter eggs or were tearing into their Easter basket goodies, 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund still was missing.

Police offered no new updates Sunday morning as to the boy's whereabouts.

His parents, Andrew Freund and JoAnn Cunningham, told police they last saw their son about 9 p.m. Wednesday when he went to bed. They awoke Thursday morning and he was gone, they have said.

Cunningham, through her attorneys, agreed on Sunday to answer questions posed by the Tribune. Jeannie Ridings, one of Cunningham's attorneys, responded to questions via text on her client's behalf.

Ridings said Cunningham attended church Easter Sunday at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Crystal Lake and has been spending her time talking to people and hanging up flyers all over town searching for her son.

Cunningham, through her lawyer's texts, said her son "loves Legos and dinosaurs."

She said that as a family, they do not watch much TV, but when the children did get screen time, they would watch YouTube videos about Lego Army or wildlife videos. AJ "loves to draw and color," she said.

"He is so smart, like 'Einstein smart' and was going to start Kindergarten this fall," his mom said.

Cunningham said her son is "such a good big brother." Cunningham, who is currently seven months pregnant, said the family had recently gone to light a candle for her new baby at their church. She also said the boys often sleep together and like to wait up for their dad to come home from work to have dinner with him.

"The boys love each other dearly and do everything together. AJ is really outgoing and loves to talk," the mom said.

Ridings said Cunningham recently chose to stay with a friend because investigators left the house uninhabitable and it was "depressing" to be in the home without her children.

Ridings said that despite all the "chaos" left behind after police searches, which include dishes and clothing strewn around the home as well as a destroyed couch, the home has "all signs of an ordinary household with children."

"When I was in the home I saw many pictures and drawings on the walls that the kids had made and toys and kid stuff all over," Ridings said.

She said the parents were separated during hourslong questioning Thursday at the Crystal Lake Police Department and have since not been "together as to any search, or strategy on what to do next."

"I don't know how they were functioning before AJ went missing so I can't say if this is really unusual or just the natural extension of whatever estranged relationship they had," she said.

Cunningham said she has not seen her younger son, Parker, since he was taken Thursday by the Department of Children and Family Services and placed with a family member.

 

Ridings said Cunningham has found all of the attention from the media and neighbors overwhelming, but she appreciates the prayers and gestures of goodwill from the community.

At a vigil held at Saturday night at Crystal Lake Main Beach hundreds gathered, held candles and prayed for the child's safe return home.

Michelle Woodmancy of Crystal Lake could hardly speak as she tried to say why she attended the vigil.

"I just hope and pray he's somewhere, he's OK," she said, adding she is a mom and a grandma and was just dyeing eggs with her own family. "He should be like every little boy, seeing the Easter bunny, dying eggs. It breaks my heart."

Her friend Chris Noble of Lakewood said, "It really just hits home" looking around at all the children gathered at the vigil. "It's a shock. It's devastating."

During the vigil attendees signed a card offering hope and prayers and thanking police officers who have given hundreds of hours to find the missing child.

One family wrote, "Thank you for all you guys do and God bless. AJ we're praying for your safe return. God Bless Crystal Lake."

Freund and Cunningham appeared to have attended the vigil separately. At one point they embraced.

On Saturday, groups gathered to search large fields and areas along the Crystal Lake shores. Freund was taken with undercover police officers to the Crystal Lake police station where he was interviewed for about four hours. He left and walked home. When asked how he has been he said, "It is hell on earth," and asked that people keep his son in their prayers. Freund was seen taking his dog out Sunday morning, a neighbor said.

George Kililis, who is also representing Cunningham along with Ridings, said the mother is "devastated and sad" and has nothing to do with AJ's disappearance. He said she asks that people continue to help find her son.

(Chicago Tribune reporter Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas contributed.)

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