Signs of trou­ble

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D -

The buprenor­phine in the cou­ple’s Sub­ox­one pre­scrip­tion blocks crav­ings and re­lieves with­drawal symp­toms, the doc­tor stated, but does not pro­vide a “high” no mat­ter how much ex­tra is taken. He said it is rec­om­mended many pa­tients take the med­i­ca­tion for “sev­eral years.”

“As for when your clients can be ex­pected to get off med­i­ca­tion, all I can tell you now is that we are not con­tem­plat­ing any sort of rec­om­men­da­tion in that re­gard at this time,” the doc­tor wrote. “… Rush­ing that de­ci­sion will only in­crease the like­li­hood of re­lapse to the use of il­licit opi­oids.”

McIn­tyre closed AJ’s case on April 21, 2016. The par­ents’ so­bri­ety dated to De­cem­ber 2013, and records show there were no ob­jec­tions in court from other child wel­fare pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice and the case­worker.

“Court finds that it is no longer in best in­ter­ests of the mi­nor or the pub­lic that the mi­nor re­main a ward of the court,” the court or­der read. “Ward­ship va­cated. Case closed.”

AJ was 20 months old when he went home to live with his par­ents full time and about 2½ when the state stopped mon­i­tor­ing his care.

“They were do­ing good for a long time,” said Lori Hughes, Cun­ning­ham’s mother, thumb­ing through photo al­bums full of pic­tures of AJ play­ing at the park, on his birth­day or other fam­ily gath­er­ings.

The first in­di­ca­tions of a prob­lem came in late sum­mer-early fall 2017, nearly two years after the par­ents brought him home.

Some signs were small. Cun­ning­ham let her cos­me­tol­ogy li­cense lapse that Septem­ber. One week ear­lier, Fre­und ap­proached an of­fi­cer out­side the Crys­tal Lake Po­lice Depart­ment sus­pect­ing some­one had hacked into his cell­phone and ask­ing an of­fi­cer if he would scan it for sur­veil­lance soft­ware.

Other signs, in hind­sight, were more alarm­ing. The cou­ple did not reen­roll AJ in school. He hadn’t been to his doc­tor for a checkup that year. And Fre­und lost his long­time house to a tax sale. Though the tax buyer agreed to sell the prop­erty back to Fre­und in ex­change for a $100,000 mort­gage, to which Cun­ning­ham’s name was added, the cou­ple were not mak­ing pay­ments.

Around this time, Cun­ning­ham’s rel­a­tives say, she stopped re­turn­ing their calls and cut off con­tact. AJ was about 3.

“JoAnn knew how to sep­a­rate and di­vide fam­ily,” her mother said. “She could work us all. I think she prob­a­bly felt in­se­cure that she was go­ing to lose AJ again.”

Janelle But­ler, a neigh­bor of Cun­ning­ham and Fre­und’s, said she first met the fam­ily a cou­ple of months ear­lier on Hal­loween shortly after she moved in across the street. The par­ents brought AJ, then 4, and his younger brother over after trick-or-treat­ing hours had ended.

But­ler saw that AJ’s head and por­tions of his face and torso were cov­ered in gauze and said, “Oh, you’re a cute lit­tle mummy,” she re­called. But Cun­ning­ham told her it wasn’t just for Hal­loween, that AJ had ac­ci­den­tally burned him­self after grab­bing a pot of boil­ing wa­ter off the stove. But­ler said the gauze par­tially cov­ered bald patches on his scalp where he lost hair.

She said Cun­ning­ham told her they had taken him for med­i­cal treat­ment. The Tri­bune did not find doc­u­men­ta­tion of a hospi­tal visit for the burn in the vo­lu­mi­nous records that doc­u­ment his life.

“It was the first time I ever met them so I took them at their word,” But­ler said. “She looked like a young mom, to­tally fine. And he was just happy to be eat­ing candy.”

That win­ter, po­lice in­ves­ti­gated Cun­ning­ham over a fist­fight with an­other woman and for skip­ping out on a Lake County ho­tel bill.

Cun­ning­ham also “blew off” her old­est son on Christ­mas Eve 2017, leav­ing the teen “heart­bro­ken,” ac­cord­ing to Hughes.

It’s un­clear what kind of re­la­tion­ship Cun­ning­ham had with Fre­und at this point. The two of­ten kept sep­a­rate bed­rooms, var­i­ous po­lice records show. Fam­ily and friends said it seemed they stayed to­gether be­cause of their sons and for fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

To bring in some money, Fre­und and Cun­ning­ham once again be­gan tak­ing in room­mates. One was Daniel Now­icki Jr. He had a his­tory of drug ad­dic­tion and stints in prison, court records show. Cun­ning­ham met him in a treat­ment pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to fam­ily and friends.

In Fe­bru­ary 2018, Cun­ning­ham called po­lice to re­port that Now­icki, then 35, was sui­ci­dal and miss­ing. He was last seen two days ear­lier when he said he was tak­ing a train to Chicago, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice re­port.

She told of­fi­cers he was a heroin ad­dict and de­pressed over a friend’s re­cent death. DCFS re­ceived a re­lated hot­line call at this time, records show, but the agency did not in­ves­ti­gate. It was the first of four hot­line calls that year con­nected to Cun­ning­ham. Now­icki was soon lo­cated un­harmed, seek­ing men­tal health treat­ment at a Chicago hospi­tal.

Around 5 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, of­fi­cers re­sponded to a dis­tur­bance at an Al­go­nquin gas sta­tion in which the two were over­heard yelling at each other while stand­ing by a car.

Cun­ning­ham iden­ti­fied Now­icki as her boyfriend to the po­lice of­fi­cer and com­plained he was headed to Chicago to buy heroin. She said he had been clean for a year and she was try­ing to help him but he was too “stub­born” to lis­ten.

Now­icki said that Cun­ning­ham “still lives with her ‘baby daddy,’ and he does not want to deal with him,” the po­lice re­port read. “(He) stated that he just wants to leave and be left alone.”

Now­icki caught a ride with the of­fi­cer to the po­lice sta­tion, leav­ing Cun­ning­ham be­hind, fum­ing.

Less than two days later, just be­fore 9 a.m., a po­lice of­fi­cer found her asleep in her car in North­lake, about 40 miles from her home.

A daily habit

Cun­ning­ham wept as she told the of­fi­cer she did not know where she was or how she got there.

She had gone to a friend’s house the night be­fore, Cun­ning­ham said, and some­one laced her drink with drugs. She told the of­fi­cer she “blacked out” af­ter­ward.

Cun­ning­ham was wear­ing a hospi­tal bracelet in­di­cat­ing she had re­ceived med­i­cal treat­ment the pre­vi­ous day. The of­fi­cer called for an am­bu­lance, which took her to the emer­gency room.

When Fre­und went to the hospi­tal, he brought AJ and the cou­ple’s younger son, then 3. On March 21, a hospi­tal so­cial worker called the DCFS hot­line to re­port AJ had “odd bruis­ing to his face and fore­head” and that both boys ap­peared “very dirty” and that their clothes were on in­side out. The chil­dren seemed “very guarded,” she said.

The so­cial worker also told DCFS that Cun­ning­ham had “fresh track marks up and down her arms, on her feet and neck” and re­fused to take a drug test.

The hot­line launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the as­signed DCFS worker tried to set eyes on AJ that same day, fol­low­ing an agency rule to make a “good faith at­tempt” to see a child within 24 hours. But records show that the in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Kath­leen Gold, went to the wrong house — a home Cun­ning­ham hadn’t lived in since sum­mer 2012.

Eight days later she went to the cor­rect house, but no one an­swered. She also tried to call sev­eral days later and gath­ered in­for­ma­tion on the par­ents’ his­tory with DCFS and law en­force­ment, records show.

On April 17, Cun­ning­ham posted a mes­sage on Face­book telling her three sons she loved them, ad­ding: “I hope you will al­ways know that.”

Gold did not see AJ for the first time un­til April 25 — one month after the hot­line call — when the child and his younger brother were out­side play­ing. Cun­ning­ham ap­peared “stable and lu­cid” and the chil­dren “well cared for, clean and ap­pro­pri­ately dressed,” the DCFS in­ves­ti­ga­tor re­ported. By then, AJ’s bruises were gone.

Three weeks later — nearly two months after the hot­line call — Gold set foot in­side the house for the first time on May 17 for a meet­ing with both par­ents and their two sons. Cun­ning­ham ad­mit­ted to Gold that after more than four years of so­bri­ety, she had re­lapsed on heroin be­fore North­lake po­lice found her in her car in March.

The DCFS in­ves­ti­ga­tor found that Cun­ning­ham com­pleted a five-day detox pro­gram af­ter­ward and was con­tin­u­ing treat­ment through methadone, coun­sel­ing and random drug screens. The home ap­peared kept up, and the boys were clean and with­out signs of mis­treat­ment, ac­cord­ing to Gold’s notes.

She viewed the dad, Fre­und, as a “pro­tec­tive fac­tor for the chil­dren.” He as­sured Gold “he would not let any­thing hap­pen to the boys,” records show. At the time, Fre­und had a job pro­vid­ing in­house le­gal ser­vices for a River­side com­pany, and he was car­ing for the kids when their mother re­lapsed.

A day after her meet­ing with the par­ents, Gold con­sulted with su­per­vi­sor An­drew Polovin and de­ter­mined the al­le­ga­tions were un­founded. There is no in­di­ca­tion in the records that Gold asked about AJ’s fa­cial bruises.

Cun­ning­ham’s down­ward spi­ral con­tin­ued. That July, she was charged with bat­tery for al­legedly scratch­ing a nurse while be­ing treated for three days at a Chicago hospi­tal psy­chi­atric unit.

She had been ad­mit­ted for de­pres­sion and sui­ci­dal thoughts, with a plan to “walk in front of a bus,” ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments re­viewed by the Tri­bune.

The records said Cun­ning­ham re­ported she was in the city to buy drugs. Ex­hibit­ing signs of opi­oid with­drawal, she said she had re­lapsed a few months ear­lier, de­vel­op­ing a daily habit of 10 to 15 bags of heroin, cost­ing about $100 daily by her es­ti­ma­tion.

Later that same month, at a dif­fer­ent Chicago hospi­tal, she again spoke of her de­sire to com­mit sui­cide, this time by in­ten­tion­ally over­dos­ing on heroin, records said. It’s un­clear how long she re­ceived treat­ment at the hospi­tal, but she was di­ag­nosed with de­pres­sion, gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­der and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, the doc­u­ments said.

In Au­gust 2018, as Crys­tal Lake po­lice in­ves­ti­gated a com­plaint from Now­icki about miss­ing med­i­ca­tion, of­fi­cers de­scribed Cun­ning­ham as “on some sort of nar­cotic med­i­ca­tion” and hav­ing “no idea” what oc­curred much of the night be­fore.

In Septem­ber, in a third 2018 hot­line call, some­one called for a well-be­ing check on the boys be­cause the house was dark and ap­peared to have been with­out power for weeks. Out­side, the grass was over­grown and the paint peel­ing. Cun­ning­ham ad­mit­ted the power had been dis­con­nected and said she was try­ing to find a new place to live, stay­ing at ho­tels or else­where with her

Daniel Now­icki Jr., fa­ther of Cun­ning­ham’s youngest child, died Sept. 29.

Cun­ning­ham gave birth to her fourth child, a girl, in May.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.