Editorial: A tragedy beyond comprehension

It is very hard to read about the death of Thomas Valva, the facts are so horrific, so completely and utterly inhuman. The cruelty is unimaginable. This 8-year-old boy died Jan. 17 on the garage floor at his father’s house in Center Moriches. Outside temperatures hovered below 20 degrees. The boy died of hypothermia. 

It of course doesn’t grasp the full truth of this nightmare to say the boy suffered from the cold. It was a form of torture, as was his knowledge as he lay dying that he was being forced to spend the night in the unheated garage by his own father, NYPD officer Michael Valva, and the senior Valva’s fiancée, Angela Pollina.

Mr. Valva, 40, and Ms. Pollina, 42, have been charged with second-degree murder in the boy’s death, along with multiple counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The latter charges also include Thomas’ 10-year-old brother, Anthony. 

Newsday broke a story last weekend that was almost too painful to read. It showed all the ways Thomas’ mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, had tried to save her son in the years leading up to Jan. 17. She knew the boy’s father was a monster, and she begged for help from multiple authorities, according to the Newsday account — “from police, county social services agencies and the courts in Nassau and Suffolk.” She also wrote a 75-page letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking for his help.

She went from office to office, courtroom to courtroom, asking for assistance that never came. Two years ago, a judge rescinded Ms. Zubka-Valva’s custody of Thomas, Anthony and their brother Andrew, who at 6 is her youngest child. Her children were now completely in the hands of their father, with their mother off on the sidelines, the legal system fully backing him and discounting her. 

Go back and read the Newsday story by Nicole Fuller, Michael O’Keeffe and Craig Schneider to see how the reporters reviewed thousands of pages of documents in both counties, along with Child Protective Services reports and documents from the East Moriches school district, where Thomas was a third-grader. The facts are just horrific — from Thomas and Anthony coming to school “dirty, hungry and with bruises,” to the father’s house being falsely depicted in court as a place of happiness. What a farce.

These facts constitute an overwhelming indictment of multiple agencies. Clearly, the overall system failed at an epic level to protect this child. Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini is investigating how Thomas’s case was handled by the legal and social services network. He would be right to convene a special grand jury to examine it in depth, to put people under oath and to let the chips fall where they may.

Last weekend, some 50 people gathered in a Riverhead parking lot near the county Department of Social Services. They marched west up Main Street, carrying signs demanding justice for Thomas. Among them was Thomas’s mother, who hugged and kissed everyone for supporting her. For her, the road ahead will be one of excruciating sadness and loss, but hopefully one that ends with a full accounting of who is responsible, in addition to the father and his fiancée.

Perhaps the worst punishment for Michael Valva would be to spend the rest of his life in a small prison cell thinking about how he murdered his own son. The death penalty, which technically doesn’t exist in New York State for even the most extreme crimes, would seem to be the easy way out for this couple. Beyond punishing them, we as a society, we as taxpayers in one of the nation’s most heavily taxed areas, need to know exactly who failed this boy, and why. If these agencies can’t protect a child — what are they good for?