AJ is a runaway foster child who moved in with Callie and Mike after running away from home. His past is complex, and he can become highly protective of himself.
Careful observation allowed AJ’s dad to spot an opening behind the dashboard that could provide cover for hiding his phone. Reaching into it, he felt around with his hand before pulling his fingers out from its tight spaces and feeling for it with his fingers.
1. He threw it away
Mike Hensdale, AJ’s father, works in the emergency department of a major hospital as an emergency surgeon. A loving father, Mike strives to do everything in his power for both of his children. Although their relationship has often been tenuous, AJ’s dedication to work comes from wanting to prove himself worthy and provide better lives for himself and his family.
At trial, prosecutors pointed out several discrepancies in AJ’s story to the 911 operator. He claimed hearing gunfire in his parents’ bedroom and witnessing an unknown intruder wearing a mask, but no sign of forced entry was evident. Furthermore, during initial questioning hours with police, AJ never mentioned an intruder nor admitted responsibility for shooting his parents.
Prosecutors employed evidence from AJ’s cell phone, including texts showing his plans to attack months in advance and his anger toward his mother for not allowing him to spend the night with his girlfriend. They also presented a video from the day of the murders showing AJ and another individual stealing a weapon and discussing plans for killing.
AJ’s phone was located under a couch cushion. Her dad noticed it was missing and decided to search for it in their car’s interior, paying attention to any crevices or gaps that might hold it. Finally, he noticed an opening between the dashboard and the main body where there was a tight space that had his device – he reached his hand into that tight space to retrieve the device.
AJ’s father is an unselfish and dedicated individual who cares deeply for AJ but may also be guilty of capital murder. After being arrested multiple times before being found guilty in 2022 and given a life sentence with parole eligibility after 40 years, widespread media attention and protest from family and supporters against this verdict have surfaced, and they may appeal the case to seek justice.
2. He buried it
After weeks of deceiving authorities and lying, AJ Freund’s father finally confessed to burying his son after police presented a disturbing uncovered cellphone video clip showing AJ undressed while being scolded by his mother for urinating on the mattress; an ice pack can be seen over his face; there are visible bruises visible across his body in this two-minute recording allegedly made using Cunningham’s iPhone.
Police believe this video offers a “fingertip-sized glimpse into their brutal treatment of AJ,” according to KHOU reports. This footage provides evidence of the abuse he suffered at their hands. The couple’s older children, a 12-year-old daughter, and a 5-year-old son, were not home at the time of the murders but have since been placed with another family, KHOU reports.
Police spoke with AJ’s younger brother, who informed them that his mother claimed he fell down the stairs and suffered “owies.” Later, when interviewed by child welfare officials, this same child reported his parents instructed him not to discuss AJ.
An arrest warrant indicates that when they believe AJ died, Cunningham used Freund’s phone to search for “child CPR.” After failing to revive him, Cunningham used AJ as leverage and told him he was dead before moving his body downstairs for two days in a Rubbermaid tote, according to police reports.
One text message exchange between AJ’s parents and the couple discussed ways to discipline him for lying and disobeying, suggesting he suffered from oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). They also addressed teaching him respect.
The allegations of assault against AJ were so brutal that he suffered multiple skull fractures, crushed jaw injuries, and craniocerebral trauma – the latter of which is an injury of the brain called craniocerebral trauma. An autopsy performed by the pathologist revealed multiple blunt force injuries sustained to his head and neck and severe swelling in his brain and blood in his lungs; it was the first time they had seen such severe injuries, and they immediately called 911 for assistance.
3. He left it in the car
AJ is standing on a riverbank using a spear to attempt to catch fish when Clementine approaches and inquires if he is hungry, to which AJ responds that he is. Clementine then tells him not to be reckless with the fish that may come his way and warns him against killing any more Marlons; in response, AJ admits to enjoying killing Marlon but doesn’t plan on repeating it, and that anything happens to Clementine that would compromise him killing any more people in future.
During their conversation, a walker approaches them. AJ shoots it and kills it before continuing up the wall with Clementine until they come upon a small shack with multiple people living inside, either asking if they need assistance or offering to join their ranks if asked; either way, AJ will eventually reveal that there is a boat nearby that they need help reaching.
On their journey, AJ expressed their hunger, and Clementine suggested they play games or test his reading skills as a distraction, but soon became annoyed and told them it wasn’t helping. Clementine could agree or send them through an opening in the walls instead.
After being pursued by walkers, AJ and Clementine head toward their school; after finding an open doorway and entering, they find out it has been abandoned with plenty of food stored within, thus leading them to leave together as they look for shelter elsewhere.
AJ can either engage Louis/Violet in an argument about the situation as they depart or listen calmly as they discuss it. When they begin packing up and heading outside of the walls, AJ may either keep Louis/Violet’s gun for himself or give it back when they encounter a group of walkers and AJ is forced to kill one with his pistol – only later trying to explain himself to Clementine who does not understand what has transpired and is shocked by AJ’s actions.
4. He left it in the house
Prosecutors presented evidence from several text messages exchanged between AJ’s parents that illustrate an apparent strain in their parent-child relationship, with his mom criticizing him for failing grades, being late to curfew, and smoking marijuana – among other behaviors – while texts also indicate he often sneaked out and lied to his sister about where he was located. They believe the tension caused a breakdown between parents and AJ, ultimately leading to his murder.
According to an affidavit submitted as part of his search warrant request, AJ’s father believed his son suffered from oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). This would make sense as he believed AJ acted like the leader of his family by disobeying his parents, lying, and insisting things go his way instead.
AJ initially told police in April that his parents had attacked and beaten him, though this story later changed to say he fell down the stairs and sustained multiple aches. DCFS workers interviewed AJ again in June; during this interview, AJ mentioned missing his mother and younger brother, but their parents refused to discuss these matters further.
Another theory proposes that AJ’s father died due to some dubious dealings. This would explain his body not being found and the secrecy surrounding his disappearance; however, this theory doesn’t account for other evidence found during their investigation.
Alarm systems at AJ’s home were activated on the day of the shooting despite his phone being active for an hour before going quiet, and alarm sensors showed that no windows had been opened or any evidence of forced entry into his residence.
Prosecutors claim AJ attempted to test out his 22 handgun by shooting it against his bedroom wall, leaving a bullet hole behind. They also believe he searched online for how to make homemade bombs before murdering both parents.