Andrew “AJ” Freund will soon be honored by the Sage YMCA with a “buddy bench” and tree at its community playground.
The local nonprofit will install the bench and plant a tree at its park, 701 Manor Road in Crystal Lake, later this month, Executive Director Jordan Bley said.
The bench and tree were donated by staff of the Sage YMCA in honor of the 5-year-old boy who died April 15, Bley said. The “buddy bench” aims to promote friendship and ensure every child has a place on the playground.
“It’s a special kids-sized bench,” he said. “It’s a place for all kids in the area. ... The staff felt really compelled to do something to honor AJ.” He said the bench will bear AJ’s name.
Bley said kids will be instructed to monitor the bench for other children feeling lonely, isolated or without someone to play with.
“If they see another kid sitting there, they’re supposed to go over and talk with the kid or ask him to come over and play with them,” he said. “It’ll be a custom-made AJ Freund bench.”
Bley said he believes the community will appreciate a public space where AJ will be remembered.
His obituary described him as a loving, affectionate and outgoing little boy, whose smile could light up a room. He also loved to play outside.
“AJ took very seriously his role as a brother to both of his siblings. You could often find him hugging and wrestling with his younger brother, watching over him always. Like many boys their age, the pair loved to play outside and indoors, you would find him drawing, reading books or putting puzzles together,” the obituary reads.
AJ was reported missing by his father April 18. After nearly a week, the Crystal Lake boy was found dead, wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave near Woodstock. It later was revealed that AJ died April 15.
Freund Sr., 60, and JoAnn Cunningham, 36, have been charged with beating and killing their son days before reporting him missing to police.
They each are being held in the McHenry County Jail on $5 million bonds. Cunningham and Freund are due back on court June 18.