AUBURN — Nearly a month after two boys fell into the Androscoggin River at Bonney Park, one of the boys stood on the riverbank throwing sticks into the water.

He also joked with a news crew. Played with other children. Petted a dog.

At Bonney Park on Wednesday afternoon, 10-year-old Maxim McFarland looked like any other kid playing at a park.

His parents, meanwhile, were not so happy to be near the river again.

“It’s a hard thing to look at,” said Jason McFarland, father of the two boys, including 5-year-old Valerio, who drowned after falling into the river April 24.

The McFarland family returned to Bonney Park on Wednesday for a couple of reasons: They wanted to thank everyone who had supported them during the ordeal, including rescuers who saved Maxim, searchers who helped find the body of Valerio, hospital and school employees and the community as a whole.

“There were so many aspects of help coming in,” Jason McFarland said. “It was a huge community effort.”

The family held a private service for Valerio on Sunday, and wishes everyone could have been invited. With that in mind, part of the Wednesday gathering was to announce a public memorial service will be held on the walking bridge near Bonney Park at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“This is the best way we can think of to say, ‘Hey, thank you for everything,'” McFarland said.

Asked if the service will help the family to find closure, Helena Gagliano-McFarland, mother to the boys, looked doubtful. Valerio was only 5 years old, she said, but he had plans and aspirations. Losing him has left the family thunderstruck.

“It’s not natural,” she said. “It’s not something you can ever get closure to.”

The couple said they have also become advocates to make the area safer for the children who play at and around Bonney Park. They stopped short of suggesting that a fence should be erected there, an idea proposed by some in the community.

“We have ideas,” Jason McFarland said. “There’s a lot of stuff we have in mind that we want to see changed.”

The couple plan to explore those ideas more in coming days, they said. They would also like to see some kind of memorial in the area to honor their youngest son.

On April 24, Valerio was playing with Maxim at Bonney Park, near the home into which the family had moved days before. When Valerio fell into the river, Maxim was the first to jump in to try to save him, according to the family. The boys’ 9-year-old sister, Giada, and father quickly followed.

Jason and Giada made it back to shore, while the brothers were swept away by the river’s strong current. Rescuers were able to pull Maxim from the water, but Valerio was not seen again until May 15, when his body was recovered about five miles downriver.

On Wednesday, the walking trestle spanning the river was still replete with items left by well-wishers over recent weeks. There were dozens of teddy bears strapped to the railings. Candles lined half the length of the bridge, and even a few balloons remained weeks after a vigil.

According to Jason McFarland, he and his family were not able to participate in the vigil because they were still grieving and searching for Valerio.

When he first visited the bridge Wednesday, Jason McFarland said he was stunned and pleased to see so many things that had been left by many people.

“It was comforting,” he said. “I probably made it past the first four rails and I just lost it.”

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