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Unknowns in toddler's death continue to frustrate

For nearly two months, since a 3-year-old boy's body was found in the woods in Haddon Township - without a word from authorities on how he died or got there - John Potter has tried to keep his 10-year-old daughter indoors.

Brendan Link Creato

For nearly two months, since a 3-year-old boy's body was found in the woods in Haddon Township - without a word from authorities on how he died or got there - John Potter has tried to keep his 10-year-old daughter indoors.

"Nobody goes out of the house now," said Potter, 51, who has lived for 16 years in the Westmont neighborhood. "It's permanent. Life has changed in the neighborhood."

The uneasy feelings among residents - and the rumors - have only grown since Oct. 13, when a K-9 unit led police to Brendan Link Creato's body in the woods near South Park Drive and Cooper Street around 9 a.m. That was three hours after his father had reported him missing from their apartment a half-mile away.

Authorities have ruled out sexual assault and said there was no forced entry to the father's apartment. But after an autopsy and toxicology tests, they have not announced a cause of death or said whether someone is responsible, or even if the community has anything to fear.

No arrests have been made.

The lack of progress has left Brendan's father, D.J., "at a complete loss," said his attorney, Richard J. Fuschino Jr.

"He's just heartbroken," Fuschino said. "Because he can't get any answers."

Andy McNeil, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said this week, "We understand the public and the press have many questions, but we cannot compromise the integrity of an active investigation by releasing additional information at this time."

Meanwhile, rumors have swirled about Brendan's final hours - the latest being one implying that Peter O'Connor, a prominent affordable-housing advocate who employs Brendan's mother, might have been the man allegedly seen pushing a baby carriage the morning Brendan was found.

"He matches the general description of the man seen pushing the carriage, as well as having apparently worn clothing of the same description as the man," the news website PhillyVoice reported, citing an unidentified neighbor.

O'Connor called that claim "totally ridiculous." He said he was at a memorial service that day in Worcester, Mass., for a friend, Charles Edwin Carr, who had died of Parkinson's disease. St. George Church in Worcester confirmed that a service for Carr occurred that day.

O'Connor, 73, of Haddon Township, said investigators have not asked to speak to him. Brendan's mother, Samantha Denoto, works for him at the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit in Cherry Hill. O'Connor said he has known Denoto's side of the family for nearly 30 years, and knew Brendan since he was born.

"He was an adorable child," O'Connor said. "And it's just heart-wrenching."

Denoto, who does not live with Creato, said in a statement along with her family on the day Brendan was found that they were "heartbroken" but did not have answers about what had occurred. The family requested privacy.

What further evidence authorities need so they can release additional information to the public and allay residents' fears is unclear.

Dennis Wixted, a former first assistant prosecutor in the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, who oversaw the homicide unit in the 1980s, said he was not surprised the investigation has stretched on, particularly because a cause of death and how Brendan got to the woods were not immediately clear.

"I'm sure the investigators have questioned everyone they can possibly find," said Wixted, who is now in private practice and not involved in the case. But, he said, "if there's nothing worthwhile to release to the public, then the best thing to do is release nothing."

Investigators interviewed D.J. Creato, 22, and his parents, David and Lisa, early in the case. Last month, Creato's sister, Sarah, also was subpoenaed to testify to a grand jury, though what she said and why she was called are unknown. Fuschino said Friday he did not know whether anyone else had been subpoenaed.

William J. Brennan, who represents Sarah Creato and her parents, declined to comment on the grand jury. But he said the family wants answers.

"I think that they're trying to be patient and they're hopeful that the investigators will come up with answers," Brennan said. "Because it's frustrating to not have any indicia on the cause of death."

Camden County Medical Examiner Gerald Feigin, who performed the initial autopsy on Brendan, has sought assistance from the state medical examiner in trying to find a cause of death. A toxicology test, which generally looks for drugs and other chemicals, came back negative, Fuschino said last month.

In a 911 call made around 6 a.m. on Oct. 13, D.J. Creato said he woke up and found his son missing. Fuschino said that on the previous night, Creato and Brendan had read three children's books together and eaten potato chips before Brendan went to sleep sometime before 10 p.m.

After the 911 call, and an automated police call to residents about the disappearance, many neighbors searched cars, yards, and even inside plastic Halloween pumpkins for Brendan. A K-9 unit eventually discovered his body.

Julia Spensky, 17, a New York resident who described herself as Creato's girlfriend, said in a Tumblr post after Brendan was found that she was "possibly a suspect in a homicide investigation."

The post has since been removed. Spensky's attorney, Joseph Sorrentino, did not return calls this week.

Authorities have asked anyone with information about the case to contact Michael Rhoads, Prosecutor's Office detective, at 856-225-8561, or Don Quinn, a Haddon Township detective, at 856-833-6208.

Correction: The original version of this imprecisely characterized a report on PhillyVoice. The website's report implicitly, rather than categorically, linked affordable-housing advocate Peter O'Connor, an area resident, to the case. It said O'Connor "matches the general description" of a man allegedly seen pushing a baby carriage the morning Creato was reported missing. In an interview with The Inquirer, O'Connor called the implication "ridiculous" and said he was in Massachusetts that day. The story has been revised to reflect this.