A New Jersey man was charged with murdering his three-year-old son, allegedly killing the child because he feared the boy was getting in the way of his relationship with his teenage girlfriend, prosecutors said.
Little Brendan Creato was found dead on October 13, less than a mile from his dad’s apartment, where he had been dropped off a day earlier.
His father, David “D.J.” Creato, Jr., reported the toddler missing around 6 a.m., telling a 911 operator that he had woken up to find his son was missing.
“I just woke up and he wasn’t in my apartment,” Creato, 22, said. “I don’t know if he wandered out or what happened. I don’t know where he is.
“The door was locked. I guess he unlocked it and left,” he continued.
Brendan’s body was found by a K-9 unit partially submerged in water in a wooded area off South Park Drive about 9 a.m., officials said. He was still wearing his pajamas.
The child’s cause of death is still undetermined, but medical examiners reportedly found he died of “homicidal violence,” prosecutors said.
Brendan’s brain showed a lack of oxygen before his death, indicating causes such as drowning, smothering or asphyxiation, WPVI reported.
He also had a fresh bruise near his collarbone, investigators said.
Investigators reportedly did not believe that Brenden went to that area on his own, as the boy’s socks were clean despite the muddy surroundings.
The area is very steep at one point and difficult to navigate, authorities said.
He was also known to be afraid of the dark, so it was unlikely he would have gone into the wooded area before it was daylight, prosecutors said.
There were no signs of forced entry at the home, where Brendan slept on a love seat nine feet from his dad’s bedroom, she continued.
“Never once had he left the apartment or his mother’s house or his grandparents’ by himself,” Shah said.
The boy’s father was arrested on Monday and charged with first-degree murder and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, officials said.
Prosecutors allege that Creato killed his own son after his 17-year-old girlfriend had told him she disliked children and “issued an ultimatum to him,” saying it was either her or him.
She told Creato that he would have to give up taking custody of Brendan every other weekend to be with her, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The pair had begun dating in June 2015 after meeting on the app Tinder, remaining together despite the girl’s open “dislike” of children, prosecutors said.
She had written a series of “unbelievable” blogs in which she described her “strong dislike of children,” Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah said at Creato’s arraignment on Tuesday.
After the girl went away to college, she repeatedly threatened to break up with Creato, who had allegedly become jealous of a boy that she was talking to at school.
Creato reportedly logged into her social media accounts and at one point posed as the girl and told the boy to leave her alone.
Creato did not confess to killing his son, but allegedly told investigators that he felt “jealous and anxious” in the hours before he noticed his son was missing, and that he had been worried that the woman he loved had found someone else, the Inquirer wrote.
Shah said that on the night that Brendan was killed, Creato allegedly called his girlfriend eight times and that he noticed from her Snapchat account—a picture and video-sharing app—that she was with the “guy he was jealous of,” the paper reported.
Creato and the girl had visited the spot where Brendan’s body was found about 30 times, and he told investigators that it was his “favorite place… and he referred to it as spiritual to him,” Shah said.
The pair is still reportedly communicating.
If convicted of murder, Creato faces a minimum of 30 years in prison without parole and a maximum term of life in prison with at least 67 years without parole. His bail was set at $750,000.
If he posts bail, Creato is not allowed to leave the state or make any contact with Brendan’s mother, Samantha Denoto, or her family.
Creato’s attorney, Richard Fuschino Jr., said his client had cooperated fully and truthfully with investigators.
“He spent an entire day answering questions of investigators,” Fuschino said, saying that the prosecutor’s version of what happened was improbable, the Inquirer wrote.