News - McHenry County

Mother of AJ Freund gives birth to baby girl, agrees to keep child in DCFS custody

Paternity test for Cunningham’s newest child could be complete by July 8

JoAnn Cunningham, mother of missing 5 year old Andrew "AJ" Freund, holds back tears April 19 as she talks with the media outside Cunningham's home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake.

The newborn daughter of a Crystal Lake woman accused of slaying her 5-year-old son will remain in protective custody while a judge tries to determine who fathered the child.

McHenry County Judge Christopher Harmon on Monday ordered two men to submit paternity tests in an effort to identify who fathered the infant, born May 31 to JoAnn Cunningham.

Cunningham and her ex-boyfriend, Andrew Freund Sr., face first-degree murder charges in connection with the death of their son, AJ Freund. They also are accused of concealing the boy’s body for several days before falsely reporting him missing April 18.

Cunningham, Freund and another man, Daniel Nowicki, each was present Monday morning for a shelter care hearing to determine where Cunningham’s baby will be placed.

The infant girl was in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services on Monday morning. Details about the child’s health were not discussed in open court.

Cunningham and McHenry County Assistant Public Defender Megan Sippl acknowledged a set of nonpublicly disclosed allegations and agreed to keep the child in DCFS’ care for the time being.

Cunningham and Freund sat through similar hearings last month in reference to AJ’s younger brother, who currently is in DCFS’ care. Prosecutors with the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office have petitioned to revoke Cunningham and Freund’s parental rights over the young boy. A separate petition would need to be filed to terminate Cunningham’s parental rights over her daughter.

Reached by email last week, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers previously declined to say whether Cunningham had given birth, and said all questions about Cunningham’s medical information should go through the woman’s attorney.

In the meantime, Freund and Nowicki must submit paternity tests to determine which man should be included in future proceedings.

Test results could be complete by the next juvenile court hearing July 8.

“I believe I am [the father],” Nowicki said after court Monday.

Nowicki was detained at the McHenry County Jail when AJ died. He and Cunningham previously were engaged to be married but are no longer in a relationship, he said.

The pair exchanged polite smiles as Cunningham was escorted into the courtroom Monday alongside two Correctional Emergency Response Team officers.

“She told me she loved me,” Nowicki said.

Nowicki recently was released on probation for separate aggravated battery charges tied to his Dec. 18 arrest.

That day, he and Cunningham got into an argument after Cunningham accused him of stealing her medication, Nowicki said. Cunningham called the police, who determined Nowicki hadn’t stolen anything, police reports show.

Later that day, Nowicki experienced what he called a “breakdown” and went to the hospital for mental health treatment. He was arrested and charged with aggravated battery after police said he became physically aggressive with hospital staff. Nowicki denied the allegations Monday.

Cunningham also was arrested that day after driving to Taco Bell on a revoked license to meet police.

The day’s events led police back to Cunningham’s 94 Dole Ave. home, where they noticed a large bruise on AJ’s hip. After repeatedly telling authorities he got the the bruise when the family dog, Lucy, jumped on him, AJ later told an ER doctor “maybe mommy hit me with a belt.”

Neither the doctor nor a DCFS investigator could determine how the bruise came about and released AJ back to his father that night.

Nowicki was reportedly moved out of the Dole Avenue house at the time of his arrest, but he confirmed Monday that he did live with Cunningham and Freund for a period of time.

AJ, he said, was like his own son.

“It’s been hell,” Nowicki said.

Although Nowicki had some knowledge of Cunningham hitting AJ with a belt, he never witnessed any of the violence described in police reports and affidavits that have been made public since the boy’s death, he said.

“I don’t know what happened ...,” Nowicki said.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald from 2017 through 2021. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.