Not far from where the three-year-old’s body was discovered in the woods, the Camden County Parks Department erected a wrought-iron bench in his memory.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 4, 2016
Around the winding intersection of Saginaw Avenue and South Park Drive in Haddon Township, just at the edge of the woods where his body was found by K-9 units last October, Brendan Creato is still quite present to the residents of Haddon Township.
The tragedy that shook the quiet neighborhood more than a year ago has never been far from its thoughts.
Blue ribbons still adorn a number of lampposts and mailboxes throughout town. A tree at the edge of South Park Drive has been converted into a makeshift memorial, its trunk adorned with photographs of the boy and its base landscaped into a small shrine with toys, stuffed animals, and flowers.
To those token vigils of a child whose disappearance reverberated throughout a community, the Camden County Parks Department added a lasting monument Sunday, as it dedicated a memorial bench in Creato’s name.
Acknowledging the conflicting emotions that might come from erecting a placeholder not far from where the child’s body was recovered, Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash said he hoped future generations would find ways to be contemplative without descending into anguish.
“This bench is not about the bad,” Nash said. “It is about the reflection… remembering a boy whose mother described him as ‘a ball of joy’.”
Nash said he hoped passersby would remember Creato’s infectious smile and cheerful spirit.
Samantha Denoto, the late boy’s mother, spoke very little aside from thanking those gathered and the county officials for their efforts in creating the memorial.
“I hope it comes to a point where anyone can come here and enjoy [the bench],” she said.
In its concrete base is inscribed a plaque with lyrics Denoto compiled from the song “Lost Boy,” by Ruth B—apropos, she said, because her son loved the story of Peter Pan:
“Captain Hook you are my/perfect story book/Neverland I love you so/you are now my sweet home,” it reads.
Camden County Community Outreach Coordinator Luis Lopez, who is also pastor at Iglesia Adventista Del 7mo Dia Eben-ezer in Camden City, offered a prayer of invocation.
“It’s never easy to lose a son,” Lopez said. “When we lose a child, that hurts really deeply in our hearts.
“Your child was a true inspiration for everyone around this community,” he continued, addressing the families. “Brendan is never going to be forgotten, ever. He’s going to live forever in our hearts.”
Paul Kerth, who grew up in the Bluebird section of town, said the stretch of woods “was our backyard.” He’s building a house farther up the block, which he said wouldn’t have happened if prior owners hadn’t withdrawn their plans to do the same after the boy’s death.
“The people under contract pulled out,” Kerth said. “They got spooked.”
Kerth said his family still walks along South Park Drive and through the woods near the memorial, and frequently encounters people on his way.
“There’s always somebody here who seems to be reflecting,” he said.
Farther back from the bench stood Dave Creato, Brendan’s paternal grandfather, and the father of David “DJ” Creato, Jr., the boy’s father who has been jailed for months since being charged with his death.
Dave Creato said his side of the family hadn’t been notified about the dedication, and scrambled to be there for the ceremony after a friend got word of it.
“I wish it was publicly announced so more townspeople would be here,” Dave Creato said. “Brendan touched so many lives.”
He added that if it had been Denoto’s wishes that the ceremony be kept small, “then I’m supportive.”
As Creato, Jr.’s trial heads for its January date, Dave Creato maintained his son’s innocence. He said they speak daily, and are putting their faith in the system. Creato, Jr. is in “a positive mood,” his father said.
“We’re looking forward to the trial so that the truth might come out,” Dave Creato said.
Because both families had been close and spent lots of time with the late boy, being kept at a distance during the investigation has been difficult to bear.
“It hurts being accused,” Dave Creato said. “We’re the victims also.”
The bench dedication and similar efforts to keep Brendan’s memory alive also help the family process their emotions, he said.
“This is very important,” Dave Creato said. “It helps with the grieving and the pain to see that so many people do care; that Brendan touched so many lives.”
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