St. Paul toddler laid to rest next to mother following months-long battle to bring him home
A 2-year-old allegedly killed by his foster parents has been laid to rest on St. Paul Island.
The child, Joshua John Rukovishnikoff, was buried on top of his mother’s grave during a memorial service Saturday.
Jeremy Philemonoff is from the Pribilof community of about 350 people and used to be married to the toddler’s mother, Nadesda “Lynnette” Rukovishnikoff, who was killed in September 2021.
Philemonoff said they laid John to rest right on top of her casket and placed a small cross in front of hers.
“When you're born, the doctor usually puts the baby on the chest of the mother,” he said. “And that's kind of what we were doing. It's just kind of a beautiful ending to such a tragic death.”
Several community members gathered for the closed-casket memorial service at the St. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church. There was a wake after the burial.
In mid-December, while in the care of his foster parents, John was medevaced to a hospital in Anchorage where he died of a serious head injury, according to a report from the Alaska State Troopers. His foster parents now face felony murder charges in his death.
His mother was killed just months before him. Joshua Rukovishnikoff — her husband at the time and John’s father — faces charges for her murder.
John has family in Anchorage and on the island. His half-sister, 17-year-old Jaylene Philemonoff, said she planned for him to be returned to St. Paul to be buried. But John’s paternal aunt had power of attorney. That side of the family had pushed for him to be buried in Anchorage, where he died.
After petitioning and battling for months to have John returned to the island, a tribal court in Anchorage appointed Jaylene as the executor of the boy’s estate in February.
Jaylene and her brother are enrolled citizens of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government. The court said the tribe has inherent jurisdiction in this case.
That also means Philemonoff finally got to bring her brother home.
“At the end of the day, he's with my mom now,” Jaylene said. “I guess that's all that really matters.”
Jaylene worked for months getting 6,000 signatures from across the globe on the petition that brought John home, according to her father.
After all that work, she’s still somber, but glad that John was returned to their mother.
“I still don't really know how I feel about it all because I did all this work and he’s still not here,” she said. “He’s still gone. So I’m very numb, but I know I did the right thing.”
A memorial service was also held in January at the Saint Tikhon Orthodox Church in Anchorage.
John’s death is still under investigation. His father’s next court hearing in the death of his mother is set for July.