The former nanny of Thomas Valva, the 8-year-old boy who froze to death after his father and the dad’s fiancée allegedly forced him to sleep in their home’s frigid garage, says the blended Long Island family was a far cry from the wholesome image they presented, which she likened to The Brady Bunch.
“I felt like they wanted to be this large, perfect family and it was like they wanted the big house, the big family, the happy life,” Amanda Wildman tells PEOPLE of Michael Valva and his fianceé Angela Pollina. “But Angela didn’t want nothing to do with those boys.”
Valva and Pollina were charged with second-degree murder after Thomas, who had autism, died of hypothermia in the family’s Center Moriches home on Jan. 17. His father had told police his son had fallen in the driveway while waiting for the school bus, but investigators later discovered video and audio evidence that allegedly showed Thomas and his brother sleeping in the garage shortly before his death, and Valva taunting his son for being cold the day he died.
Wildman worked for the couple for one year, from 2017 to 2018. During that time, she says she never witnessed any physical abuse but alleged she saw Pollina repeatedly verbally abuse the children, especially the boys.
When Wildman heard about Thomas’s death, she went straight to police: “I knew the detectives had a lot of insight about the outside of their life but I was inside of it,” she says.
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Authorities allege the couple withheld food from Thomas and forced him and his brother to sleep overnight in the home’s unheated garage without a mattress, pillow or blanket.
They are now investigating whether the couple abused the five children other than Thomas in their home.
Thomas and his brothers had been living with their father after he gained custody of them in 2017. Wildman knew Child Protective Services were involved with the family but was told it was because of their mother, who Valva claimed was abusive.
In the months leading up to Thomas’s death, 17 calls were made to a child abuse hotline about the boys, according to records obtained by the New York Post.
“The fact that [abuse] was reported a year ago and now we are, a year later, talking about the same way he died is heart-wrenching and I just wish CPS had done something,” Wildman says. “Just because someone’s an NYPD officer doesn’t mean we trust their judgment.”
Both Pollina and Valva have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Valva’s attorney, Austin Mcgee Mangha, declined to comment Wednesday while Pollina’s could not be reached by PEOPLE.