It will be 30 years since one of the worst massacre’s in New York’s history, dubbed the Palm Sunday massacre, and the lone survivor is talking about her life then, and her life now. Christina Rivera was only 13 months old at the time of the shooting, which took the lives of 10 people, including her mother and eight other children. She was found crawling among the dead, and was immediately handed over to a police woman Joan Jaffee. The two women have a history and a bond like no other, and they have decided that it is time to tell their stories.
Jaffee was one of the first officers to arrive at the bloody scene nearly 30 years ago. She was handed little Rivera, and their picture graced the cover of the New York Post, eliciting sympathy at the horror, and the worst mass killing that New York had seen in decades. Rivera never knew what happened that fateful Palm Sunday, until she was 10, and a girl at school told her that her mother had been murdered. Not only did she lose her Mom that day, but also two half-brothers and several cousins. After the brutal slaughter that was committed by a cocaine addict, she was reunited with her Father, but ultimately ended up in the care of her Grandmother. That fateful day at school led to her Grandmother pulling out a suitcase filled with clippings and articles detailing the murders. Jaffee was still a big part of her life, as after the Palm Sunday massacre back then, she had become attached to the toddler, as she is now to this day. Little by little she began to ask questions of the police Chief who always stopped by to just visit. It began to come together as Rivera uncovered the fact that Chief Jaffee was one of the first responders on that fateful night.
When the Chief was transferred to the crime ridden neighborhood that Rivera’s Grandmother lived in, she began more frequent visits. Eventually Rivera would visit the police station after school, and began thinking of Chief Jaffee as her Mother, and even went on vacations with Jaffee and her then fiance, Doug Lennihan. As the years passed Rivera’s Grandmother found it more of a struggle to care for the girl. One day she showed up at the police precinct with Rivera and her father, asking if Chief Jaffe could take her in. This happened just before she was to marry Lennihan, and when she told him, he was quick to accept the responsibility of raising the troubled teen.
They soon found out first hand the turmoil the young girl was going through trying to piece together the long ago events. She listened to taped broadcasts of the event and longed to understand what had happened and why. It left her unable to cope with everyday chores such as going to the corner store. Together with the Chief, they took it slow, and it was not until she was in her twenties that she ventured to visit her Mothers grave.
Years later, while working at a daycare center, an inconsolable child that was the age Rivera was when her Mother was murdered, triggered a flood of emotion that she explored with her therapist. She was finally able to grieve the loss of the Mother she never knew. Add to all this the unfulfilled promise of a Police Chief trying balance the stress of her job, with the stress of helping Rivera and the adoption of this once little girl never officially happened, until just a little over a year ago.
Christopher Thomas, a native of the Bronx, was convicted of those long ago killings and together Rivera and Jaffe face every parole hearing, as that Palm Sunday massacre lives on from then to now in this young woman’s life.
by Kristi Cereska
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