MELVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — Friends, family and strangers alike paid their respects on Thursday at the Long Island funeral for an 8-year-old boy who died of hypothermia while in the custody of his father, a New York Police Department officer.
Thomas Valva, who died on Jan. 17, was forced to sleep in an unheated garage as temperatures dropped to under 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6 Celsius), authorities alleged.
Michael Valva, 40, and his fiancée, Angela Pollina, 42, were charged last week with second-degree murder in Thomas’ death. They deny any wrongdoing.
Thomas’ mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, accompanied Thomas’ body into the church alongside his brothers, Anthony, 10, and Andrew, 6.
The three placed their hands on the coffin before taking their seats at St. Elizabeth Church in Melville, Newsday reported, and Zubko-Valva did a Biblical reading.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said on Monday that a committee will examine how the county’s social services department dealt with abuse allegations against the defendants concerning Thomas and the five other children who lived with them.
Audio files recovered from the defendants’ Center Moriches home recorded the couple discussing the fact that Thomas was suffering from hypothermia, had been washed with cold water, couldn’t walk and was “face-planting” on the concrete, Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe said on Friday.
A separate task force will examine how the department handles cases of children with developmental disabilities. Thomas exhibited signs of autism, authorities said.
Bishop Andrzej Zglejszewski , who had baptized Thomas and delivered the homily at his funeral, told mourners that his story should inspire societal change.
“Another beautiful life was lost because of our human negligence, and in so many ways, I feel that we failed this little boy,” he said.
“The system failed,” Zglejszewski said, according to WCBS. “We as religious and social leaders, we failed him, because we are the ones supposed to make change. We are the ones supposed to protect life.”