Springfield rally to call attention to 'souls lost in DCFS'

  • AJ Freund

    AJ Freund

  • Tracy Kotzman

    Tracy Kotzman

By Maria Gardner
Updated 4/5/2022 7:09 PM

Members of a group calling itself "Roar for AJ" will rally Thursday at the state Capitol to call attention to what members consider ongoing failures by the Department of Child 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 his family's home in Crystal Lake after his parents initially reported him missing.

His father and mother later were convicted of killing the boy, who had been under monitoring by DCFS.

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."

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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 -- JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr. -- and the two DCFS workers.

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.

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