The gut-wrenching death of 8-year- old Thomas Valva gripped Long Island because in a place where parents take on third jobs to pay for travel soccer, the neglect of a child is antithetical to core values of its inhabitants. Community, especially social bonds, is what makes a small town a special place to live, and one where generations continue to return and flourish.
With so many South Shore towns on Long Island being nautical beacons of community, young Thomas’s tale of a trag- ic death is one that painfully, forcefully, and unwittingly thrust attention on what happens when someone violates the basic tenets of community.
Similarly, “Broadchurch,” a television show set in a fictional seaside town in England, explores the investigation, fall- out, and healing process of a picturesque village that endures the murder of a young boy.
The tale unfolds in staccato, poignant scenes with plenty of red herrings impli- cating every character, from the boy’s own father to the modernizing vicar, but always asking the audience, “Is your community what you believe it to be?” And as we learn more about the residents of Broadchurch, we learn about the multifaceted, layered lives we lead and how we can condemn ourselves simply by being human and trying to pretend we do not fall prey to our desires.
Interestingly, the story raises questions about the roles of police, press, and par- ents in the well-being of our children that
often go unasked because it’s presumed that the safety of our kids is tantamount to all else. When a local reporter uses his family member to pull details of the case, he makes a press announcement on Twit- ter about the death of the boy before the family is even notified. As the editor rush- es to repair the damage, we are asked if community notice surpasses courtesy. In a future season, the editor goes on to write a successful book about the story that also benefits the family financially, but is faced with her own doubts about the exploitative nature of the press.
As suspicions loom, the town becomes desperate for answers because they need to make sense of the tragedy and ensure it does not happen to anyone else’s child. A local merchant with a sordid past is attacked, and children are warned to no longer frequent his once-popular store, despite protestations of innocence. When the full backstory is revealed, the damage is already done and the once upstanding community member is no longer part of the village after a particularly brutal oust- ing.
The police play a pivotal role in the plot- ting of the story, and as with any high-pro- file case, are under immense pressure to solve it, but the salacious details and gen- erally suspicious atmosphere create prom- ising but ultimately dead ends to a suspect. All at once, grief transforms into distrust and no one is safe from rumor.
When the killer is dramatically revealed (early in the final episode, breaking from formula), we are left with over 40 minutes to process the gut-wrenching blow to the community as they lose their innocence forever.
The townspeople come together and light torches along the shoreline in soli- darity, support, and sanctity of the young boy, proving that while his death has bro- ken them, the healing process has also begun