Family member forced boy, 6, into cold shower as punishment and relatives hid body in Indiana, prosecutors say
CHICAGO — The 6-year-old North Chicago boy reported missing before his body was found days later in an abandoned northwest Indiana house had been forced into a cold shower by a relative as punishment before he died, Lake County prosecutors told a judge Sunday.
Damari Perry had been forced to stay in the running shower for an unknown amount of time before he began vomiting and became unresponsive Dec. 29, authorities said during a Sunday morning bail hearing for his older brother.
That sibling, Jeremiah R. Perry, 20, was charged with aggravated battery causing great bodily harm to a child younger than 12, concealing a homicidal death and obstructing justice, according to authorities. A judge ordered him held on $3 million bail during the hearing, said Jim Newton, a spokesman for the Lake County (Illinois) state’s attorney’s office.
Damari’s mother, Jannie M. Perry, 38, also faces charges of first-degree murder and concealment of a homicidal death, but her expected appearance was removed from the Sunday court call for unknown reasons. North Chicago police weren’t immediately available for comment.
Another of Damari’s siblings appeared in Lake County juvenile court Sunday on similar charges, but Newton declined to provide details on that case.
During the hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Kyle Doyle told the court that Damari had apparently misbehaved inside his home last month and the frigid shower was his punishment, according to Newton. Authorities didn’t say which family member forced the boy into the shower. It wasn’t immediately clear what specifically the 6-year-old was being punished for.
Despite the boy’s troubled state, no one in the house sought medical attention and he later died from his injuries, officials said. After Damari’s death, his family took his body to an abandoned house in the 700 block of Van Buren Street in Gary, Indiana.
Damari was reported missing Wednesday by his mother and a sibling, and the family at first told police he might be in Skokie, which turned out to be a “completely false” story contradicted by evidence and resulting in the obstructing justice charges, according to the state’s attorney’s office.
Then investigators quickly turned their focus to the boy’s home in North Chicago and the three were arrested Friday night. The boy’s body was discovered in Indiana early the next day.
Damari’s tragic death is eerily similar to that of 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund, of northwest suburban Crystal Lake, who authorities said died in April 2019 after his parents put him in a cold shower “for an extended period of time” as punishment before he was beaten and put to bed naked, wet and cold. After finding him dead early the next morning, his father allegedly stored the boy’s body in a plastic tote in the basement before burying his body a few towns away — three days before reporting him missing to police. The FBI was called in to assist on that case, just as with Damari.
AJ’s parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr., were charged in connection with AJ’s death not long after AJ’s body was found in a shallow grave near Woodstock. Both were held on $5 million bail before trial and later were convicted.
Cunningham, 37 at the time, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, which some family members felt was not a harsh enough sentence. Even McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said his team was disappointed Cunningham did not receive the maximum 60-year prison term allowed under a plea deal his office reached with defense attorneys. She faced a minimum of 20 years.
Andrew Freund Sr., then 61, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery of a child and concealment of a homicidal death. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
AJ also had a younger brother who, although displaying no visible signs of abuse or neglect at the time of the investigation, was placed with a licensed foster parent.
Similarly, all other children in the Perry family home were placed in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, authorities said.
Damari’s father is not implicated in connection with his son’s death. Calls to Damari’s father and other relatives were not returned Sunday night.
Jeremiah Perry is scheduled to return to court Tuesday.
An autopsy is expected to be performed Monday in Lake County, Indiana, to determine Damari’s cause and manner of death.