'I was assigned to her and fell in love': How a decorated NYPD officer became mother to the sole survivor of horrific Palm Sunday Massacre 30 years later
- Officer Joanne Jaffe found 13-month-old Christina Rivera covered in blood and surrounded by bodies after the 1984 Palm Sunday Massacre
- Rivera was the sole survivor of the horrific mass slaying that left 10 shot dead including her 20-year-old mother, brothers and several cousins
- Jaffe became a constant in Rivera's life and the two made their relationship official with an adoption last year
The highest-ranking female NYPD chief has revealed how she stepped in to become mother to the sole survivor of 1984's horrific Palm Sunday Massacre.
On that tragic day, Officer Joanne Jaffe took a blood-covered 13-month-old baby girl from a pile of bodies that included her mother, brothers and cousins.
Thirty years later, that child--31-year-old Christina Rivera--can officially call Jaffe her mom.
Journey to motherhood: Now the highest ranking woman in the NYPD, Chief Joanne Jaffe (left) was just a beat cop when she responded to what became known as the Palm Sunday Massacre in 1984. Thirty years and a lot of tears later, she adopted the only survivor of the Brooklyn mass slaying, the now 31-year-old Christina Rivera (right)
Though to hear the little known tale is to understand that Jaffe became a mother the moment she laid eyes on that helpless little girl.
'I was assigned to her and fell in love with her,' Chief Jaffe recently told the New York Times.
Jaffe is now Chief of Housing and the top-ranking woman in the NYPD. Back then, she was one of the first officers to respond a tortured scene in Brooklyn on April 15, 1984.
It was the worst mass slaying New York had seen in decades. Ten lay dead after a cocaine addict named Christopher Thomas opened fire killing Christina Rivera's 20-year-old mother, her 3- and 5-year-old half brothers, and several of her cousins.
Gruesome: A cocaine addict named Christopher Thomas gunned down 10 women and children including Rivera's 20-year-old mother and two half brothers in what was New York's most gruesome mass slaying in decades
Rivera's mother Carmen Perez still held the food she'd been feeding little Christina. But the young mom would never feed her 13-month-old daughter again.
Jaffe picked up Rivera from the carnage and has never really put her down.
'I can’t imagine my life without her,' Rivera told the Times. 'She taught me what it was like to hope and to truly trust.'
Jaffe asked to take the girl home on the day of the gruesome massacre but Rivera was instead sent to a foster home for the night.
She would subsequently be reunited with her father and sent to live with her grandmother.
For years Jaffe would visit to give Rivera toys and her grandmother a little extra cash.
At the time, Rivera knew her only as that funny police lady and knew nothing of her own tragic past until age 10.
By the time she was in her teens, Rivera would become increasingly moody and too much for her aging grandparents to handle.
They asked Jaffe and her soon-to-be husband to take her, and they consented.
Rivera would come and go from the home as tensions between her and Jaffe's husband--who Rivera saw as competing for her new mother's attentions--grew.
Palm Sunday Massacre: A 1984 New York Post cover depicts the wrenching moment Joanne Jaffe held 13-month-old Christina Rivera in the back of a squad car. Rivera managed to survive a barrage of bullets that took the lives of 10 in East New York
Rivera spent some time living with her father but never really stopped thinking of Jaffe as her mom.
While she was still a kid, Jaffe promised to adopt Rivera but it never came to fruition.
'I felt very orphaned, if that makes sense, even though my mom was still my mom and still there for me,' said Rivera, who's now a state worker and auxilliary police officer in New York.
'It was almost like I wanted to be claimed, like, "I’m her daughter, I belong to her.”'
It wasn't until after Rivera's grandmother's death, a deeply painful event for her, that Jaffe would finally fulfil her promise.
'I’d seen her ups and downs in life and I said I owe it to this kid,' Jaffe told the Times. 'I’d promised her as a kid and I never followed through. I thought this is what she needs if that hole in herself is ever going to be filled.'
Fated: A 'for rent' sign hangs in this Google Street View image of the East New York, Brooklyn home where 10 were slain 30 years ago. While Rivera lost one mother that day, she would gain another in the form of one of the first cops to respond
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