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Family of toddler killed in St. Paul at odds over where to bury him

Two-year-old Joshua John Rukovishnikoff was medevaced to an Anchorage hospital with a serious head injury on Dec. 12, according to a report from Alaska State Troopers. He died at the hospital and his remains were sent to the State Medical Examiner for autopsy.
Courtesy of Jaylene Philemonoff
Joshua John Rukovishnikoff, 2, died on St. Paul Island in December. His sister, Jaylene Philemonoff, started a petition to bring his body home. The petition has more than 3,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.

Family of a St. Paul Island toddler who authorities say died at the hands of his foster parents last month are at odds over where the boy should be buried.

The 2-year-old boy’s parents are not directly involved in the decision; his father is currently facing charges of murdering his mother. The back-to-back murder charges are the first in the remote Pribilof Island community in 15 years.

The boy, Joshua John Rukovishnikoff, has family in St. Paul and in Anchorage, but he was living on the island when he died in mid-December – authorities are charging his foster parents with murder.

Jeremy Philemonoff is from the community of about 350 people. He used to be married to the toddler’s mother and was still mourning her death when her son died.

We’re just fighting for him to come back, to be buried at home, where he should be buried by his mother,” Philemonoff said.

Philemonoff shared a daughter, Jaylene Philemonoff, with his ex-wife. He said his 17-year-old daughter wants her only sibling buried next to their mother in St. Paul too.

The toddler’s mother, Nadesda “Lynnette” Rukovishnikoff, was killed in late September. Her then-husband faces charges that he strangled her to death.

She loved that boy,” Philemonoff said. “He was only two years old. In life they were together and in death they should be together, buried next to each other. That's all we want.”

But Philemonoff said it's been an “uphill battle” with the family of the dead boy’s father. Joshua Rukovishnikoff is currently in prison awaiting trial for murder. He gave power of attorney to his sister, who can now legally choose what to do with the boy’s body.

Right now, Philemonoff said, the father’s family plans to bury the toddler in Anchorage this summer. He said hopefully that will give him and his daughter enough time to change their minds.

“We found out that we can’t really do anything legally,” Philemonoff said. “So we are pleading with the other family to have the boy buried in St. Paul. And it's just a mess. It's been a real mess.”

Meanwhile, Jaylene Philemonoff started a petition to bring her brother’s body home. She said it would bring some closure to her and the small community. The petition has more than 3,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.

A representative from the Rukovishnikoff family asked for privacy and declined a request for comment.

It’s not clear why the boy died. Prosecutors haven’t released details of a motive. His foster parents, Sophie Myers-Melovidov and Steven Melovidov, are currently facing felony charges in his death, including first degree murder.

Philemonoff said there will be a service for Joshua John Rukovishnikoff at 11 a.m. Friday at the Saint Tikhon Orthodox Church in Anchorage that the public is invited to attend.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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