The mother of an 8-year-old boy who died last week expressed her gratitude for the public’s support Saturday, adding she’s still “heartbroken” over her son’s alleged murder at her estranged husband’s home on a Center Moriches street described by neighbors as nothing but quiet.
“I want to personally thank each one of you for love and support towards me and my children,” Justyna Zubko-Valva wrote on Twitter early Saturday morning. “I am still extremely heartbroken, and devastated over the cruel and tragic death of my little angel Thomas that could have been preventable.”
On her Twitter account “StandAgainstChildAbuse,” Zubko-Valva publicly chronicled her repeated accusations of physical and verbal abuse her children suffered at the hands of their father, Michael Valva, 40, and his fiancee Angela Pollina, 42.
Since January 2018, the 36-year-old mother of three has written more than a dozen posts consisting of documents, audios and videos that she said supported her claims.
Valva, a NYPD transit officer, and Pollina have been charged with second-degree murder in the Jan. 17 death of Thomas Valva, who authorities said died from hypothermia after being kept overnight in an unheated garage when temperatures outside plunged to 19 degrees.
After the boy’s death, Zubko-Valva, of Valley Stream, was granted temporary custody of Thomas’ two brothers, Anthony, 10, and Andrew, 6.
On the Thanksgiving of 2018, Zubko-Valva pleaded on Twitter for help.
“The Child Protective Services and the Court are protecting the abusers of my children and swipe everything under the rug,” Zubko-Valva wrote that day. “I don't even know if my children are still alive at this point.”
Since the news broke, neighbors said they were disturbed — if not frightened — by what happened. Bittersweet Lane, where the Valva/Pollina family lived with his three sons and her three daughters, is a quiet street filled with homes that neighbors said cost upward of $600,000. Many have four or five bedrooms, they said.
Maryann Gaita, 44, a neighbor on Bittersweet Lane, said she didn’t like Pollina from the first.
“She rubbed me the wrong way,” Gaita said. “When the school bus would come, she would have her kids run in front of a moving bus.”
She said the couple moved into the neighborhood about 2½ years ago. She considered the entire family “very high strung.” She saw the parents yelling at the kids outside the house for little things, such as wanting them to come in the house.
Amanda Wildman, who worked for Valva and Pollina as a nanny from 2017 to 2018, said she saw abusive behavior toward the boys. The great majority of it was verbal abuse by both of the adults, she said. Although Wildman never saw the adults hit the boys, she said she saw some things that bothered her.
“They wanted to be this perfect Brady Bunch, but it was a family falling apart,” said Wildman, 29, of Mastic.
If the boys didn’t finish all their dinner, Pollina would force them to sit on the couch for up to two hours, even if they said they had to go to the bathroom, said Wildman.
When their father would come home from work and find the boys had wet themselves accidentally, “he would freak out on them,” she said.
Pollina would yell at the boys if they didn’t finish their school lunch, she said.
“It was heartbreaking to me,” Wildman said, adding that there were nights she came home crying about the treatment of the boys. She finally decided she could not work there, she said.
Having read the news reports of what went on in the household and that child protection officials had been involved with the family, Wildman said she believed someone should have done more.
She said she was aware that there were accusations of abuse by both the biological parents against each other.
“I think they [the officials] should have removed the kids until they knew the truth,” she said. “The mom hasn’t seen her kids in two years, and now she has to bury him.”
Authorities said Suffolk County's Department of Social Services had investigated the Valva/Pollina family after child neglect petitions were filed in 2018. A judge ordered home supervision for a year and issued orders of protection for the parents to "refrain from harmful behaviors towards the children.”
The state’s Office of Children and Family Services said on Saturday that the agency would investigate the child’s death.
“We at OCFS are deeply troubled by this tragic loss of a child’s life,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “While we cannot comment on the specifics of any investigation due to confidentiality requirements, OCFS has a statutory obligation to investigate any child fatality if that fatality is reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.”
Anil Arkali, 40, said he had just purchased the house across the street from Valva and planned to move in within a week or so. But his 9-year-old daughter, having seen the news, told him she’s too scared to move in.
“She said, ‘Daddy, let’s sell the house,’” said Arkali, who lives in Shirley.
Now he said he planned to push back the move-in until after the summer — “till it blows over.”
With Catherine Carrera