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Atmosphere at Pittsburgh zoo somber after boy's death

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 7:48 a.m.
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
A memorial for Maddox Derkosh rests outside the closed gates of the African painted dogs exhibit inside the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. The boy, who investigators say fell off a railing Sunday and inside the painted dogs exhibit while his mother was holding him, bled to death after being mauled.

Visitors to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium paused silently throughout the day Tuesday at a makeshift memorial of flowers, candles, stuffed toys and a toy truck honoring the Whitehall boy who died in the African painted dog exhibit Sunday.

“I think we're all struggling with the enormity of it,” said Janice Brusoski, 45, of Bethel Park, as she and her three sons stood by the memorial at the closed outdoor exhibit. “This has always been a place of safety and learning.”

The zoo reopened to visitors Tuesday, two days after Maddox Derkosh, 2, fell from a railing at an observation deck and into the exhibit, where he was mauled to death by several of the 11 dogs inside.

Pittsburgh homicide detectives said they continue to investigate and still have not interviewed the boy's mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, 34. Police said Elizabeth Derkosh lifted her son up to allow him to stand on a wooden railing in the viewing gazebo, moments before he fell forward through the opening, bounced off a safety net below and landed in the open yard of the exhibit.

“What happened? Where's the baby?” Junhong Park, 6, asked his mother, Namhee Kim, 36, of Aspinwall, who replied, “He's in heaven.”

Some visitors who strolled through the park Tuesday said they already had planned to visit because their children had no school because of Election Day.

Zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray said she believed attendance was what it would be on a “normal November Tuesday,” at nearly 420 visitors.

The painted dogs exhibit will remain closed until spring; the 10 surviving dogs are quarantined for a month. Pittsburgh police fatally shot one dog as officers when it refused to obey keepers' calls to go inside and authorities needed to rescue the boy.

“Mommy, I'm very sad,” Madison Bunyenyezi, 6, of Shaler said as she leaned against her mother, Lauren Bunyenyezi, 29. The pair stood at another nearby observation deck overlooking part of the empty African dog exhibit.

“It's not like your life stops,” Bunyenyezi said. “You just keep moving forward. You have to let your kids know that sometimes bad things happen.”

Julie Bosley, 37, of Ellwood City brought her son Briley, 8, to the zoo to celebrate a visit to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in which doctors said he remains free of neuroblastoma, a nerve cancer, after seven years.

While Bosley said her son didn't quite understand everything that happened Sunday, he said a couple times during the visit that he “didn't want to fall in.”

In lieu of flowers, the Derkosh family is asking people who attend the funeral to bring a toy construction truck to be donated to a children's Christmas charity.

Visitation is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at William Slater II Funeral Service, 1650 Greentree Rd., Scott. A funeral Mass will be celebrated 10 a.m. Friday at St. Bernard Church, 311 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon.

Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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