No arrests a year after toddler found buried in Farmingdale backyard

Flowers and a bear sat outside the gate,

Flowers and a bear sat outside the gate, where State Police dug up remains of 17-month-old Justin Kowalczik, of the Hallock Street home where he lived. (Oct. 7, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

A year after investigators unearthed the body of 17-month-old Justin Kowalczik in his family's Farmingdale backyard, no arrests have been made, even as a Suffolk County lawmaker and others try to keep a spotlight on the case.

State Police say they continue to work with the Suffolk County district attorney's office on the case, which surfaced on Oct. 5, 2012, when authorities visited the Hallock Street home of Heather Kowalczik and her boyfriend, Robert Rodriguez.

Police were dispatched to the home after a Suffolk Child Protective Services worker, conducting a routine check on the health of one of the couple's two sons, determined by checking past state CPS records that a third child, Justin, was unaccounted for since the couple's 2010 move to Suffolk from Middletown in Orange County.

The boy's mother led authorities to the location of her son, who was buried in a ditch in the family's backyard. She told them he had been dead for two years.

Rodriguez, who police say is not Justin's father, was named a "person of interest" but was never arrested. To date, Rodriguez has not spoken with authorities, said State Police Senior Investigator Thomas Hughes.

Authorities have not revealed whether they have determined how the boy died.

"It's very easy to feel outraged and that this baby boy was found buried in his own backyard almost a year ago and still no arrests have been made nor even has a cause of death been released," said Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), chairman of the Human Services Committee.

"But if we really want justice for Justin, and whoever may have done this to him, our responsibilities as a society have to go even further," said Gregory, who says he continues to receive State Police briefings on the case. "If Justin's senseless loss is to mean anything, then we must find out not only how his life ended, we need to find out if the system failed him."

Said John Bogack, a retired Suffolk senior CPS investigator who has urged lawmakers to press for a resolution of the case: "A child is dead, it is up to us the living, to find the answers about that death."

Hughes said the State Police are "working closely with the Suffolk County district attorney's office and the [county] medical examiner's office to move the case forward." He said he could not provide further details because the investigation was ongoing.

Suffolk County district attorney spokesman Bob Clifford said the department could not comment "because it is an ongoing criminal investigation."

Rodriguez's attorney, Byron Divins Jr. of Garden City, said Rodriguez has moved in with his father in Florida after his firing from an appliance store. Divins suggested that publicity from the case was a factor.

"It was hard for him to find a job in New York," Divins said. "Obviously, anyone can do a very quick Internet search and see the case come up."

The couple's two other sons were placed in foster care after the discovery of Justin's body. Divins said Rodriguez plans to request custody of the boys at a hearing in Suffolk County Family Court in November.

"He does want them back," Divins said.

Attempts to reach Heather Kowalczik at her last listed phone number and email address were unsuccessful. Hughes said she moved back to Orange County, but continues to cooperate with State Police.

None of the agencies that have dealt with the family -- the Suffolk and Orange County Department of Social Services and state Office of Children and Family Services officials -- would comment on their roles in the investigation, citing state privacy laws.

Bogack, of Patchogue, who has spoken about the case at Suffolk legislative hearings, said he will continue to press agencies for updates.

"How does a child go undetected for all that time?" said Bogack. "There's just too many unanswered questions. I do not believe a child should be put in the ground and no one be held responsible for the fact."

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