Packed church mourns toddler killed at Pittsburgh Zoo
Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh, the parents of Maddox Derkosh, watch as pallbearers carry their 2-year-old son's casket out of St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon on Friday.
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Maddox Derkosh, riding in the car with his mother a few weeks ago, looked up at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Mt. Lebanon through his trademark glasses.
Most people would just see a building, but Maddox saw a collection of sand castles.
"There is nothing quite like the eyes of a child -- so full of life and aglow with awe and wonder," said the Rev. David Bonnar, the church's pastor.
His eyes were one of Maddox's most distinguishing features, Father Bonnar said in his homily at a funeral Mass for the 2-year-old Friday.
"In his short life, he saw so much with those eyes," he said.
The way he looked at the world -- and the way he could light up a room -- will be the 2-year-old's legacy, he said.
Friday morning, hundreds of people gathered within that castle, where Maddox was baptized and where his parents, Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh of Whitehall, were married, to say their goodbyes to Maddox, who died at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Sunday. The little boy was visiting the zoo with his mother when he fell into the African painted dog exhibit and was mauled.
Maddox's casket was small and white in the cavernous hall of the church. The Derkoshes held each other as they followed their son's casket up the center aisle of the church, trailed by a few dozen other family members and friends, many of them crying softly and accepting the tissues that were distributed by the church's staff.
The church seats 800 people, and most of the seats were filled. Many of the people in the pews cried during the service.
Father Bonnar, the only person to deliver remarks during the 80-minute funeral, has been a priest for nearly 25 years, but he said he had "never experienced such a heart-wrenching moment."
"This is a tough time for so many," he said.
Yet, he said, also unmatched in his quarter-century as a Catholic priest is the outpouring of support he has seen expressed toward the Derkosh family, especially in the thousands who have responded to their request for donations of toy trucks.
In life, Maddox was captivated by the bigness of trucks, Father Bonnar said, and even as they experience "unspeakable suffering and pain," Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh thought of other children by asking for donations of trucks.
The trucks have arrived by the thousands, delivered to St. Bernard Church and to William Slater II Funeral Service in Scott in memory of Maddox. The bed of a pickup truck parked just outside the entrance of St. Bernard Church Friday overflowed with the toys, which will be donated to a children's Christmas charity.
Maddox Lamar Derkosh loved more than just trucks, Father Bonnar said.
He also loved to sit on tractors during trips to Lowe's and Home Depot. His great-aunt described him as a "firecracker," Father Bonnar said, someone who could light up the room. He jumped at the chance to blow out candles on a cake, even if it wasn't his birthday.
"Maddox was a happy child who loved life and giggled often," Father Bonnar said. His parents, when they spoke to Father Bonnar Thursday, told him how blessed they felt to have spent the time they had with their son.
The world would be a better place if all people could look at life as if through the eyes of a child, Father Bonnar said.
The Mass ended and the family slowly followed the casket down the aisle of the church, from the dim interior of the building into the brightness of the day outside.
A few minutes earlier, they had listened to a letter read aloud by Father Bonnar from Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik. The leader of the Catholic diocese in Pittsburgh had spent time with the family at the funeral home Thursday but was unable to attend the funeral Friday.
His letter read, in part: "I have no doubt (and I know that you believe it so too) that dear Maddox is working hard from heaven as your new guardian angel.
"He, like our God, is always with you."
First Published November 10, 2012 12:00 am