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January 11, 2016

Father of Brendan Creato indicted on murder charges in toddler's death

Haddon Township boy was found dead nearly 100 days ago

Brendan Creato Case Charges
Brandon Link Creato Source/Facebook/for PhillyVoice

While full results of an autopsy on the body of three-year-old Brendan Link Creato are pending, preliminary results have been inconclusive regarding the boy's manner of death.

The father of the 3-year-old toddler found dead last year in a Haddon Township park has been indicted on murder charges in the death of his son.

A grand jury indicted David "DJ" Creato Jr., 22, on charges of first-degree murder and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office confirmed Monday afternoon.

Brendan Creato was found dead about 9 a.m. on Oct. 13 in the woods of Cooper River Park in the Westmont section of the township – three hours after DJ Creato reported the toddler missing in a 911 call. The body was found about a half mile from the apartment he shared with his son at the intersection of Cooper and Virginia streets.

DJ Creato was taken into custody at about 2:15 p.m. in Washington Township. He is being held at the Camden County Jail. An arraignment is slated for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Edward J. McBride Jr. at the Camden County Hall of Justice.

The prosecutors office said it will not be releasing any further information.

Richard J. Fuschino Jr., the Philadelphia lawyer who represents DJ Creato, said Monday he was aware of the charges, but knew little else. He said he was notified of the charges by Christine Shah, an assistant county prosecutor assigned to the homicide unit.

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The apartment building at Virginia Avenue and Cooper Street in the Westmont section of Haddon Township where Brendan Creato had lived with his father, David.

A message seeking comment from Brendan Creato's mother, Samantha Denoto, was not immediately returned.

Larry Scott, 59, a resident of Haddon Heights, had watched with curiosity when detectives and forensics returned to the site where Brendan's body was found three weeks after the search and grim discovery on Oct. 13.

"It seemed like they didn't have any leads or witnesses," he said of the three-month investigation.

"I hope they found the guy who did this and the community can rest in peace," he said, adding the neighborhood had been on edge, given the unknown circumstance of Brendan's death.

Pam Singer, who helped her husband, Peter, maintain memorials near where the body was found in Cooper River Park, said the charge against the boy's father shows, "There is evil in this world."

She and her husband were at the memorial tidying up late Monday after hearing about the charge.

Peter Singer said he hoped that the memorial had encouraged those investigating to keep going.

"That's what it was for," Singer said.

A Westmont neighborhood resident, Robert DiBruno, 59, said it was "good for the neighborhood," to have an arrest in the case. "But it is a shame it happened," he said. "At least this shows no one was invading the neighborhood."

A neighbor who grew up with DJ Creato and had a blue ribbon in memorial to the little boy outside his home on the street where the Creatos live, described the entire family as "good people," and called DJ a "good dude."

"This is a real surprise to me," he said.

Neighbors believe officials began looking for DJ Creato early on Monday, when an unmarked car drove up and two men began eyeballing the neighborhood.

DJ's car, a distinct electric green, was not parked on Virginia Street on Monday. Authorities arrested him after noon in Washington Township, Gloucester County, though they did not say precisely where he was found or why he was there.

Fuschino, his lawyer, said he does not know.

DJ Creato, who was behind on rent, moved out of the apartment about two weeks after the boy's body was found.

The entire Creato family – DJ, Sarah Jessica, and Lisa and David, Brendan’s grandparents – now live together in a home on Virginia Street in Westmont.

William J. Brennan, the attorney representing Lisa and David Creato, and Sarah Jessica Creato, did not immediately return a call for comment about the charges.

Kevin C. Shelly, File/PhillyVoice

In this photo from Oct. 16, stuffed animals and other toys placed under a tree memorialize Brendan Creato.

DJ had been working at his dad’s business, Creato Home Improvements, which has a showroom in Haddon Heights, a neighboring South Jersey town.

For months, official information in the investigation of Brendan Creato's death was limited to an announcement that the initial autopsy proved inconclusive, despite a review by two additional medical examiners. Prosecutors also said there was no forced entry into the Creato's locked apartment, and that the boy showed no signs of sexual molestation.

It was also known that a grand jury was investigating the boy's death, and PhillyVoice had confirmed that Brendan Creato’s young aunt, Sarah Jessica Creato, 20, was summoned to testify on Nov. 16.

And the toxicology screen for the toddler came back clean, showing no unexpected drugs in his system, Fuschino told PhillyVoice on Nov. 2. Fuschino said Monday evening that he still has not been told a cause of death and as far as he knows there is no final autopsy.