In an early-morning call to 911, D.J. Creato told a county dispatcher that his son, Brendan, was gone from their home.
"I just woke up and my 3-year-old's missing," Creato said to the dispatcher, according to a recording of the call obtained by The Inquirer on Wednesday that offered a window into the moment search efforts for the boy began.
Authorities said they were still working to determine a cause of death for the toddler, whose body was found Tuesday around 9 a.m. - about three hours after the 911 call of less than three minutes - in the woods half a mile from his father's Haddon Township apartment on the 100 block of Cooper Street.
An autopsy Tuesday had not revealed the cause or manner of death, said Andy McNeil, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. He did not respond to a query on what other tests might be performed.
Brendan's disappearance sparked a frantic search by residents of the township's Westmont section, who looked inside garages, cars, and Halloween pumpkins after they received an automated call from police about the missing boy.
The lack of clues since then has caused the family's close friends to speculate that a stranger could be involved, or that some sort of street commotion lured Brendan outside.
But a nearby neighbor reported hearing nothing in the hours prior, and police did not respond to any other calls in Westmont that morning, county officials said.
Creato, speaking to the dispatcher in a generally calm voice to report Brendan missing, said his son was last seen wearing red pajamas.
Quickly into the call, the father appeared to ask a third party if there was a change. "Hold on. . . . Is he in there?" Creato asked. "No, yeah, he's missing."
The dispatcher later asked: "You didn't hear anything or see anything or nothing like that?"
"No. I just woke up and he wasn't in my apartment. I don't know if he wandered out or what happened. I don't know where he is," Creato responded. "The door was locked, I guess he unlocked it and left."
Toward the end of the recording, a woman can be heard in the background yelling out for Brendan, and Creato is heard telling her that both the "top door" and "bottom door" had been locked. The dispatcher advises Creato that police are en route.
A man who answered the phone number Creato provided in the 911 call said Wednesday that Brendan's father did not wish to speak to reporters.
Vic Filosa, who owns the two-story brown-brick building where Creato lives, said Creato had moved into one of the seven units in February or March of this year, following repair work to the building.
Filosa said Creato always has paid his rent on time and has never caused problems. "None whatsoever," Filosa said. "He's been an excellent tenant."
Filosa added: "You never even know he's there, very quiet."
According to Camden County College spokeswoman Susan Coulby, Creato attended the school from fall 2011 to spring 2014 and was registered as an addictions counseling major. He did not complete a degree.
Creato and Brendan's mother, Samantha Denoto, do not live together, friends of the family have said.
Denoto's family released a statement late Tuesday about her son's disappearance.
"We are heartbroken by the loss of our beautiful boy Brendan Creato. Along with the Creato family, who also lost a son and grandson, we are grieving and tremendously saddened," they said, requesting privacy.
"We do not have any answers about what occurred," they said.
On Wednesday, some things returned to normal near Creato's apartment as landscapers mowed lawns and school crossing guards appeared. The stuffed animals and candles left in front of Creato's building from a vigil Tuesday night that was attended by nearly 150 people had been moved to the side of the building.
Marie Rudderow, 54, who lives a couple of houses from Creato and leaves for work at 4 a.m., said she heard nothing in the hours before Brendan was reported lost. She said she had her windows open that night.
"I have two big dogs, they didn't bark," said Rudderow, a baker at Wegmans. "There was no commotion at all."
Authorities asked anyone with information about the boy's death to contact Camden County Prosecutor's Office Detective Michael Rhoads at 856-225-8561 or Haddon Township Police Detective Don Quinn at 856-833-6208.