Brendan Creato, whom we all wish we could have saved somehow, is still and always will be just 3 years old.
In photos likely to last forever in the cloud (or, perhaps, the clouds), his smile will stay as bright as the little boy’s joy in his eyes.
And that lively head of hair will remain mussable for eternity.
Not so the images of his father, David “D.J.” Creato, a young yet tragically unsympathetic figure long perceived by social media sleuths as having been at least partly responsible for his boy’s death.
Police found Brendan’s pajama-clad body in a watery, woodsy patch of Cooper River Park less than a mile from his father’s Haddon Township apartment on Oct. 13, 2015.
Creato told authorities he awakened to discover that his son had gone missing in the dark.
The story immediately seemed implausible, if not preposterous, but the prosecution’s case was circumstantial, and Creato’s trial on murder charges ended inconclusively on May 17; the jury had deliberated for three days but could not reach a verdict.
A second trial was scheduled to begin Sept. 11, but on Wednesday the suspect pleaded guilty to one count of first degree aggravated manslaughter in a deal with the Prosecutor’s Office.
The vile crime for which Creato has “taken responsibility” and “will be held accountable” — as they say way too often these days — is encapsulated, but far from explained, in the necessarily precise and almost cruelly lifeless language on the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office’s website.
“In court today, Creato stated under oath that he recklessly caused his son’s death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life by depriving Brendan of oxygen on October 13, 2015.”
There was no mention of the purported “spirit” that the killer, during a conversation with Brendan’s mother, suggested might have lured their son to his death.
No reference to the incomprehensibly obsessive texting between the adult Creato and a then-underage girlfriend said to be jealous of his relationship with the boy.
And, saints be praised, no further attempt to cast Creato as a “victim,” which the defense had done in an apparent let’s see-if-it-sticks moment during the trial.
For all its omissions and abstractions, the statement does bring some resolution to the mystery of what happened to Brendan.
He didn’t stop breathing by himself. He was deprived of oxygen, by his father.
He didn’t unlock the apartment door and walk away under the spell of a spirit in the dark.
He was carried, presumably by the depriver-of-oxygen who had “recklessly caused his son’s death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
Creato is to be sentenced Sept. 29 and will be required to serve 8½ years of a 10-year term before parole.
Perhaps at sentencing, the recipient of what looks to me and I suspect to many in the community like a rather remarkably minimal period of incarceration will attempt to explain himself.
Perhaps he will express contrition, which would be welcome and may prove helpful for the grieving members of the two traumatized families who had to say goodbye to Brendan and then endure the investigation, the judicial process, and the media coverage.
Or perhaps family members themselves will choose to speak about the boy who was described in published funeral notices as loving the Beatles and toy monster trucks; who wanted to go out for Halloween as the Incredible Hulk; and who “brought much love, joy and happiness to this world.”
To remember Brendan that way — as the spirited, smiling little boy who lives on in those photos — is just a tiny bit of justice. But it is something.