How is it possible that an 8-year old boy with autism was murdered by his father? And his father was a policeman!

As The New York Times reported, “it was no secret that Tommy Valva was suffering.”

For the past two years, worried school officials and teachers had made over a dozen calls to child protection services in Suffolk County expressing their concerns for Tommy and his two brothers, one of whom is autistic like Tommy.

According to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, documents stated: “The children are frequently hungry, beg for food and eat food out of the garbage.”

In another complaint, the caller reported that the boys’ father forced at least one child to sleep in the garage.  That child, the caller said, “arrived at school with his clothing soaked in urine” and shivering from the cold.

Sadly, no one in authority listened to the warnings from well-meaning neighbors and school officials. WHY NOT?

On January 17th, Tommy died after being forced to sleep in father’s garage in subfreezing weather. At his death, Tommy’s body temperature was only 76 degrees. His father, Michael Valva, a 40-year-old New York City police officer and his fiancé, Angela Pollina, 42, were arrested and charged with Tommy’s murder.

When I first read about the murder a week ago, I wondered how the boys’ mother, Justyna Zubko Valva, could have lost custody of her sons to such a monster. Apparently, as The Times reported, Ms. Zubkko-Valva had faced accusations of neglect. These charges resulted in a judgement initially awarding full custody of the children to their father in September 2017. (The mother eventually obtained visitation rights.) Ms. Zubko-Valva explained that her husband had told judges that she was mentally ill during their divorce proceedings. When she reported bruises on Tommy’s buttocks to authorities, she ended up on trial herself for neglect. Those charges were later dismissed.

Often representing herself in court, Ms. Zubko-Valva claimed there was a conspiracy between child protection agencies and law enforcement agencies to protect her ex-husband Officer Valva. A prosecutor described her as mentally ill, according to the New York Post. It sure looks like a conspiracy. There is definitely a tendency for law enforcement officers to trust each other over civilian witnesses. (Consider all those ignored reports about Tommy’s abuse.) Sadly, it is also likely that Ms. Zubko-Valva is not winning any prizes for being an outstanding mother though she made some effort to protect her sons.

Adding to this tragedy is Angelina Pollina’s willingness to ignore the abuse of her stepsons. What was the policeman’s fiancé—and mother to three daughters who also lived with them— thinking? How could any sane mother remain engaged to a man who beat, starved and tortured his own sons—unless she too is a victim of the abuse? Evidently, Ms. Pollina wasn’t concerned about her own daughters witnessing their soon-to-be stepfather’s child abuse, at least. At this time there is no way to tell if the girls suffered abuse also, but one thing is certain: they must have been terrified.

In today’s upside down world, might makes right again. The process of law and order is giving way to amorality. It’s suddenly fashionable to return to caveman values where people with brute power are morally right because they say so. Whether it’s the president of the United States or a bunch of self-deluding senators, the narrative of right and wrong has become a fluid story in which facts no longer matter and accuracy is a dim memory. Today we are living in a world where lying is pervasive, starting at the top of the power pyramid and trickling down. A policeman nearly always has more power than a woman or a minority, even in 2020.  Against such evil, what chance does a young and vulnerable child have, ESPECIALLY an autistic child who has trouble communicating under the best of circumstances? Regardless of anyone’s gender or political affiliation, I think we can all agree that Tommy Valva died a terrible and preventable death.

In my opinion, Michael Valva and Angela Pollina should both go to jail for a very long time.  All 5 of their respective remaining children should be immediately removed from their home and placed with relatives who are competent and compassionate adults, capable of being loving guardians who can help these children heal from their cruel and abusive parents. The government agencies that failed these children should provide them with psychological counseling for as long they need it and some financial reparations wouldn’t hurt either. What is the cost of a child’s life? At least that much is owed to his siblings.

As for the Suffolk County’s “Child Protection” agency (a total oxymoron!)  everyone there should be fired and grateful they are not on trial for contributing to the death of a minor by willful neglect. Newly hired employees need better training, manageable caseloads and greater accountability.

Laws need to be passed to protect all children, but especially those with autism and other disabilities.  People should not become parents if they’re not prepared to be patient and kind to (even the most difficult and demanding) children.

Restricting abortions will only cause more unwanted children to be born into the world to suffer abuse. Those who argue against a woman’s right to choose, insisting that all fetuses must be brought into the world, should stand ready to be held financially and emotionally responsible for the well-being of all these children AFTER they are born—from infancy to adulthood.

Tragically, Michael Valva and Angelina Pollina had each chosen to bring three children into the world in their previous marriages. Now one child has been murdered and the remaining five siblings have endured unimaginable suffering. What sort of parents will these children grow up to become (assuming they survive their hellish upbringing)? With a family and community that has (so far) failed them completely, when and from whom will they learn kindness and compassion?

Right now the prognosis is poor. While our upside down world remains oblivious to rehabilitating and protecting the rights of all children AND their moms, I honestly shudder to think about the next generation.

It’s still not too late to make a change.  Now is the time for all of us to elect a president with integrity and compassion.  Everyone—but most especially adults with autism and other disabilities—must make their voices heard and go out and vote.



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