The Suffolk County Department of Social Services, News 12 said, stated that CPS was notified about the abuse more than a year before Thomas Valva died in Center Moriches on Friday, Jan. 17.
On Friday, Suffolk County homicide detectives arrested two people in connection with the death of Thomas Valva: his father, Michael Valva, 40, and Valva’s fiancée, Angela Pollina, 42, of 11 Bittersweet Lane in Center Moriches. Both were charged with second-degree murder, police said.
Although his father initially reported that Thomas died after a fall in the driveway, gruesome new details emerged Friday at a press conference by Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.
Thomas Valva officially died of hypothermia, according to the Suffolk County Medical Examiner, Hart said. “We believe that he was kept in the garage overnight preceding his death,” Hart said, adding that when he was found, the boy’s body temperature was 76 degrees and he had head and facial injuries that did not align with Valva’s account of what had happened
At Valva and Pollina’s arraignments, Newsday reported, Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe said a recording from the home on Jan. 17 included a child asking: “Why can’t Thomas walk?” Pollina, Newcombe said, “because he’s hypothermic,” adding, “When you’re washed with cold water and it’s freezing you get hypothermia.” According to Newsday, Newcombe then said Valva was heard saying: : “He keeps face planting on the concrete.”
The New York Post added that Pollina, according to the recordings, asked Valva, “Do you know why he’s falling?” Valva reportedly responded, according to Newcombe: “Because he’s cold. Boo f–king hoo.”
I want to personally thank each one of you for love and support towards me and my children. I am still extremely heartbroken, and devastated over the cruel and tragic death of my little angel Thomas that could have been preventable. Please continue keeping us in your prayers
— StandAgainstChildAbuse (@JustZub)
For years, the boys’ mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva begged for help in a string of frantic Tweets.
“The Child Protective Services and the Court are protecting the abusers of my children and swipe everything under the rug. I am heartbroken because my children are being purposely hidden from me, and unlawfully I am not being allowed to even see my children on Thanksgiving,” she wrote in 2018.
Zubko-Valva, embroiled in an ugly divorce has said she lost custody of her three boys because of false allegations, according to News 12. On Twitter, she said she was kept from the boys for 11 months and that her two oldest were put in “diapers/pullups by their father.”
Praying to receive justice for my three little children who are being severely abused mentally and physically by their father and his woman. My children cannot receive any protection, help, and justice. pic.twitter.com/L3Gy4Nncax
— StandAgainstChildAbuse (@JustZub)
Zubko-Valva wrote a Thanksgiving wish on her Twitter page “Stand Against Child Abuse” in 2018: “Praying to receive justice for my three little children who are being severely abused mentally and physically by their father and his woman. My children cannot receive any protection, help, and justice.”
That post also included a photo of documents, which appeared to have been sent from the East Moriches School District, where her boys were enrolled. The documents, which the school district was unable to speak about or even confirm were official, according to Syntax, the agency that handles the district’s communications, paint a horrifying picture of neglect.
Thomas and his brother Anthony, the report, allegedly written by Nicole Papa, special education teacher in East Moriches Elementary School, “were not allowed to eat breakfast because they did not use their manners, say good morning to Angela, or were doing nothing,” the report said. The document added that the children were hungry and were not allowed to go to the nurse: “They have stated that Angela said do not go to the nurse,” the report said. Anthony, the report said, lost 11 lbs. in 9 months; Thomas gained 1 lb. in 20 months; both came to school “with visible dirt on their bodies,” the report said.
The school nurse, the 2018 report said, got involved in a CPS case because “Thomas had multiple bruises on his bottom from Dad.”
The East Moriches School District, where Thomas was a student, released a statement from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Russo: “We continue to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Thomas Valva. Thomas was a tender, loving boy who made tremendous gains during the short time he was a student in East Moriches,” the statement said. “While the district legally cannot comment on any specific case, it aggressively reports to the proper authorities child abuse when it is suspected. The district will continue to cooperate with the Suffolk County Police Department as they continue with their investigation.”
Despite child abuse allegations, nothing was done to remove the children from the home where Thomas died, reports said.
NBCnews.com said Frances Pierre, commissioner of Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services, said an allegation of child neglect was made in 2018, which sparked child supervision, including orders of protection, for a year. After that, the post said, “CPS investigated additional complaints” connected to the family, Pierre said.
The New York Post reported that a complaint was lodged with New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services about a child being forced to sleep in the garage Valva’s house,”but Suffolk County’s department of Child Protective Services determined it to be ‘unfounded.'” The post added that the record came from a call in Feb., 2019, which said that “Valva’s son Anthony was forced to sleep in the garage because he was urinating in his bed.” Anthony, the OCFS said, according the post, had been coming to school with his clothes and backpack soaked in urine.
On the day Thomas died, authorities got to the Center Moriches home to find Michael Valva conducting CPR on his son in the basement; the garage, which is unheated and unfinished, is attached to the house, Hart said.
Authorities are examining calls to police at the house where the boy was found, Hart said. Some calls related to the custody arrangement during his divorce from the boy’s mother, Hart said. And one call was a welfare check, although no one was home and a neighbor told police the family was in Queens, Hart said.
Police are working with the Suffolk County Social Services Department to make sure every avenue is explored, Hart said. “An event of this magnitude, the death of a child, is unimaginable, as parents, as a mother,” she said. “We are going to look at every interaction this child had with the system and make sure we investigate every avenue.”
When asked if Thomas was “malnourished,” Hart said that was being investigated.
Also, she said, authorities are investigating whether he was autistic, something his mother has said, Hart said.
Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini made a statement on Friday. “This crime evinces the depravity of these defendants. They evinced no regard for this child’s human life.” Not only was he forced to sleep in the garage in frigid temperatures, but “they failed to do anything to help him as he died right in front of their eyes,” Sini said. “Not only did they fail to render any meaningful aid, they lied to the police, they lied to the EMTs. This is one of the worst crimes I’ve ever seen. We will make sure that we seek justice in this case.”
Sini confirmed that CPS has been involved with the case.
The DA’s office has an audio tape made on the morning that the child was found. “I’ve heard it for myself and I can’t describe it with words,” Sini said. “The depravity of these defendants is shocking,” he said.
Sini said evidence suggests that two of the children living in the home, the two boys on the autism spectrum, were, at times, forced to sleep in the garage.
The DA’s audio recording, taken from a home security system, picked up Angela’s voice saying “What are you doing?” and Michael Valva then stating, “I”m suffocating him,” the DA’s office said. Sini’s office added that “Angela responded, ‘Take your hand off his mouth; there are people around.'”
Detectives began investigating after Seventh Precinct police responded at 9:40 a.m. Jan. 17 to a report of a boy who fell in the driveway of a residence on Bittersweet Lane.
The child was taken to Long Island Community Hospital, where he was declared dead, police said.
According to News12, after the boy was found dead, Valva released a statement through an attorney: “As with any tragedy, our office and Mr. Valva are shocked and saddened to learn of the horrible accident that took the life of young Thomas Valva. We mourn his death with family and friends. Since Thomas’ parents are in a divorce we are unable to make any further comments at this time.”
A report by CBSlocal.com. said the boy’s mother, Zubko-Valva, had said that her children were in the custody of their father and that she “worried” about them. “Thomas was this little 8-year-old boy, my baby, who always was joyful, always stands for the truth, play his cars, read books, loved songs,” Justyna Valva said in the report.
On her Twitter account, she has expressed fears that her children were being “severely abused mentally and physically by their father and his woman.”
A GoFundMe page was created by Valva to pay for the child’s funeral expenses, the cbslocal post said: “It is with great sadness that I must bury my 8-year old son,” said the page, organized by “Michael Gerard” — his full name was not used in the post.
The GoFundMe page was removed Friday; earlier in the day, many flooded social media platform urging that the page be taken down.
“We removed the campaign and all donors will be refunded in full. The campaign organizer has also been banned from using the GoFundMe platform for any future campaigns,” said Meghan Scripture of GoFundMe communications.
Both Valva and Pollina are being held without bail, Sini said.
Zubko-Valva was granted temporary custody of her two boys at a family court hearing this week, Newsday said.
On Saturday, the boys’ mother wrote on Twitter: “I want to personally thank each one of you for love and support towards me and my children. I am still extremely heartbroken, and devastated over the cruel and tragic death of my little angel Thomas that could have been preventable. Please continue keeping us in your prayers.”
Matthew Tuohy, a Huntington based attorney, represents Pollina, and represented Valva just for the arraignment: “She’s saying she’s innocent and is not the cause of the child’s death. She maintains her innocence 100 percent,” he said.
Valva’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.