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November 05, 2015

Haddon Township heartsick over unexplained death of toddler

My town is sad, scared and stuck over unexplained death of toddler

Opinion Brendan Creato Case
Heartbroken Kevin C. Shelly/PhillyVoice

Ribbons remembering Brendan Creato dot his hometown of Haddon Township nearly a month after he died without explanation.


That’s how the South Jersey town where I live – and Brendan Creato died – feels.

Haddon Township is heartsick over his still unexplained death.

Heartsick over hearing so little – more than three weeks later – about the investigation from officials.

Heartsick over the tiny morsels that are known about this mystery:

• No one broke into the apartment that 3-year-old Brendan shared with his dad, DJ Creato.

• The toddler was not sexually molested.

• The gross medical examination of his body showed no obvious cause of death.

• The toxicology screen conducted after three medical examiners – including the state’s top medical examiner – signed off on the initial findings, found no sign of ingested drugs or other anomalies.

• The final autopsy report remains incomplete.

• There is no timeline for changing Brendan’s death certificate from “pending,” as it now reads, to something conclusive.

But my town is also heartsick over what may be.

Some wonder if the little boy, perhaps sleepwalking, let himself out of the double-locked door of the second floor apartment, turned left, walked alone and unseen down Cooper Street in the dark and chill – 49 to 52 degrees. Then turned right, entered the wooded park he knew from visits with his father, and died alone, a still-unexplained natural death that happened sometime between 10 p.m. on Oct. 12 and 9 a.m Oct. 13 when a police dog found his lifeless body in the woods behind Vesper Avenue.

Others say they fear that someone, most likely someone he knew given there were no signs of a break-in, killed the boy – someplace (a place seemingly unidentified nearly a month later) and left his body in the woods of Cooper River Park, a half a mile from the apartment. Add in eyewitness reports of an older white man pushing a baby carriage covered with a blanket toward the woods at around 7 a.m. that morning, and neighbors are left to mull the possibility that one of their own might be walking around with knowledge of the boy's death.

The choices we are left to consider about how Brendan may have died – horrendous each in their own way – are too horrible to contemplate without the assurance of a pending answer.

An assurance my town doesn't have have nearly a month later.


The body of Brendan Creato was discovered three weeks ago Tuesday in the woods near the Cooper River. (Facebook)

Mark Cavallo, my township's police chief, whose officers spent days re-examining the woods weeks after Brendan’s body was discovered, and recently had officers questioning residents of Strawbridge Avenue about an abandoned baby carriage, declined comment. He referred questions to Camden County Prosecutor Mary E. Colalillo.

Likewise, my town’s mayor, Randall W. Teague, and public safety director, Commissioner John C. Foley, have both said to ask the prosecutor.

That hasn't worked, though.

Recent requests for comment to the prosecutor have gone unheeded, having previously issued a prepared statement that essentially read: Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Issued Oct. 30, the prosecutor’s most recent statement reads:

“We are continuing to conduct an exhaustive investigation into the death of 3-year-old Brendan Creato. We have no further comment at this time. We will contact reporters when we have more information to share.”

The lingering uncertainty of a death surrounded by unanswered questions haunts Haddon Township.

For instance, a resident who claims to have noticed the abandoned baby carriage left behind a long-vacant house on Strawbridge Avenue is simply too frightened to talk – either to me or police – a relative has told me. 

Too scared to talk is a scary – though understandable – response.

Social media fights have cropped up, some incisive and on point, many wildly speculative, uninformed or just flat wrong. It's the sort of thing that happens in the void left when information and facts are short.

“The mood? Sad. How very sad for our beautiful little town,” one longtime Haddon Township business owner said Thursday morning about the talk of her clients.

“And last night I was watching the news on television. I was shocked myself when I heard the lawyer for the grandparents (township residents Lisa and David Creato) say the prosecutor isn’t talking to them,” she added.

The unknown breeds fear, even.

“Does this mean there is a killer at large?" the businesswoman asked. "It’s baffling.

"No one is resting easy. Everyone is picking up their kids, walking them to school,” she said, shaking her head at the gnawing fear that comes with no answers.

As I drove Thursday morning down the stretch from my town’s main drag to the woods of Cooper River Park, considering the damp, drizzly November of my town's soul, I could not help noticing one thing.

How incredibly sad and bedraggled the blue ribbons lining Cooper Street, ribbons meant to memorialize little Brendan, look nearly a month after he died and three weeks after his funeral.

It will be good to finally have a reason to take them down.

Soon. Hopefully, very soon.