Strangers mourning 8-year-old Thomas Valva: ‘It goes straight to your heart’

Rosanne Yackel from Center Moriches adjusts a blue ribbon that hangs on the door of the Center Moriches United Methodist Church Sunday in remembrance of 8-year-old Thomas Valva. Credit: Randee Daddona

Wayne Hipp didn’t know Thomas Valva, but he sat in the back pew of a church on Center Moriches’ Main Street at a vigil Jan. 28, sobbing as Pastor Sharon Pizzo described the 8-year-old boy as a “sacrificial lamb” whose death saved the lives of his two brothers.

Ray Castillo, road captain for Knights on Bikes of the Deer Park-based Knights of Columbus Council #4428, hadn’t heard of the third-grader either, until recently. But he was among the hundreds who packed Mangano Funeral Home in Deer Park last Wednesday to pay their last respects to a boy whose tragic death touched their hearts.

And three local women — Florence Dixon, Sherry Kretsch and Rosanne Yackel — may have only seen Thomas in passing in Center Moriches, a South Shore community of 8,400 people where Thomas lived with five other children. But the women organized vigils and a blue-ribbon campaign to let the community know it had lost a child from what prosecutors said was murder at the hands of his father.

Before and after the three vigils, wake and funeral for Thomas, word of the boy’s death spread on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even across living rooms an ocean away. Strangers have turned out by the hundreds at events honoring Thomas, who was left overnight in the family’s unheated garage when temperatures […]

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