Roar for AJ rally in Springfield to call attention to ‘souls lost in DCFS’

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Members of the Roar for AJ group will rally Thursday at the state Capitol to call attention to what members consider ongoing failures by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

“I’m just a high school graduate, housewife,” said Tracy Kotzman, the founder of the group and organizer of the action, as she prepares to bring awareness of child abuse and the story of AJ Freund’s story to state legislators.

April 24 will mark three years since 5-year-old AJ’s body was found in a shallow grave near Woodstock after his parents initially reported him missing from their Crystal Lake home.

His mother, Joann Cunningham, later pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of AJ and his father, Andrew Freund, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery of a child, involuntary manslaughter and concealment of a homicidal death.

Two former DCFS employees who had been involved with an investigation involving AJ were also charged.

Former DCFS caseworker Carlos Acosta of Woodstock and former supervisor Andrew Polovin of Island Lake are facing child endangerment and reckless conduct charges related to their handling of the boy’s case. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Kotzman said she initially felt empathy for the child welfare workers called to investigate AJ’s family for abuse, but after learning that a previous DCFS investigation did not result in his removal from the home, she felt angry.

“I just didn’t see how it could happen with DCFS involvement,” she said. “I think it’s terrible that eyes and ears were on this child and nothing was done.

She attended his funeral and, after seeing the small casket, made a promise “to do what I can to get justice for him.”

Kotzman formed Roar for AJ through Facebook and has spurred community members to rally at court hearings involving AJ’s parents and the two DCFS workers.

Roar for AJ founder Tracy Kotzman holds her head in her hand as State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally reads from documents detailing the abuse that proceeded Crystal Lake 5-year-old AJ Freund’s death during a plea deal and sentencing for AJ’s father, Andrew Freund, on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, in Woodstock. Freund pleaded guilty to multiple charges related to the death of his 5-year-old son AJ in March 2019 and will serve 30 consecutive years for the charges. (Matthew Apgar – mapgar@shawmedia.com/Matthew Apgar)

At the state Capitol she will display more than 300 pairs of children’s shoes, representing the number of children who died from 2019 to 2021 and had had prior contact with DCFS, she said.

“The case of AJ is just one example of how dysfunctional the DCFS system is,” she said.

She calls the upcoming display “Empty soles for the souls lost in DCFS.”

“Something needs to be done or this will continue to happen,” she said.

She hopes the display will have an impact on viewers that statistics on paper may not have. She wants legislators to see the shoes and realize what’s missing – children.

“I want DCFS fixed,” she said.

“I want legislators to put their heads together to come up with a solution.”

The display will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol rotunda in Springfield.

via Shaw Local

April 5, 2022 at 08:02PM

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