The Thomas Valva saga is the most heartbreaking story that has captured Long Island because at its core is every community’s most sacred resource: a child. In towns all over Nassau and Suffolk county, parents sacrifice all abilities: social, financial, emotional to provide the best upbringing for their children and the Valva case is proving to tell a tale that is antithetical to the spirit of Long Island as a place where family life is directed by the well-being of their kids.
On Monday, Jan. 27, at 5 p.m. a candlelight vigil and reception was held in honor of Thomas Valva at the St. John’s the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Center Moriches, where Thomas had previously gone for religious instruction prior to his untimely death on Jan. 17.
By 4:45 p.m., Ocean Avenue, the block where St. John’s is located, had cars parked along both sides of traffic up two entire streets by attendees of the vigil. Mourners walked quickly to be in attendance by the start of the event with many flowing out onto the steps of the church as the substantial holding capacity of the interior proved inadequate for the outpouring witnessed by the congregation.
Pascal candles were distributed by members of the church to the attendees. The pascal candle holds significance as it is only lit for Easter, baptisms, and in the case of Thomas Valva, funerals. Attendees were stoically somber for the vigil and at times in tears as Father Sureau spoke of the “darkness” that had befallen. In a stirring speech, Father Sureau reminded attendees that, “light is brightest in the midst of darkness… As we gather and pray for another, Thomas, we have seen a great light.” As the choir sang, angelic voices were contrasted with anguished crying eyes.
Parishioner, Linda Nichols, who attended with her two grandchildren said, “Father John encouraged us to bring the children to this event,” and that she had come, “to honor Thomas and to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Amidst the quiet, dignified sobs, were families united in wanting to make a systemic change after what is largely seen as an institutional failure for Thomas Valva. As attendees walked from the church to the nearby auditorium, talk of holding authorities accountable for the perceived injustice dominated. Local resident Victoria Strong, who dabbed at tears throughout the service said, “My children are older, but we’re a small community. It affects everyone.”