NYPD Chief of Community Affairs Joanne Jaffe is pictured with her adopted daughter, Christina Rivera.
Photo credit: New York Police Department/The New York Post
An NYPD cop-turned-brass adopted the traumatized baby she scooped up from Brooklyn’s notorious Palm Sunday Massacre 30 years ago, formalizing a remarkable love story born from tragedy.
Christina Rivera was just 13 months old when much of her family was wiped out in a April 15, 1984 shooting at her Liberty Avenue apartment.
The tot’s mom, Carmen Perez, 20, two half brothers, Alberto, 5, and Noel, 3, and several cousins were among the 10 people blown away by a cocaine-crazed killer.
Officer Joanne Jaffe was among the first cops to show up and grabbed the crying child who was covered in blood.
The Post ran a front-page picture of little Christina and Jaffe, with the headline “The Only Survivor.”
“I can’t imagine my life without her,” the 31-year-old Rivera told the New York Times.
“She taught me what it was like to hope and to truly trust; if ever in life I didn’t think things would work out, I could trust her, and I would just put all my trust in her and she would get me through to the other side.”
Officer Jaffe, now the department’s Community Affairs chief, kept in remarkably close touch with little Christina, who was being raised by her grandmother, in years immediately after the shooting.
Rivera was a frequent visitor at Jaffe’s precinct and the kid even went on vacations with the cop and her fiance, also a police officer.
But for years, Rivera hadn’t been told about her mom’s murder. That all changed when a classmate told 10-year-old Christina about her mom’s fate.
The girl’s grandmother came clean about the 1984 slaughter and showed her all the newspaper clippings saved from that awful day.
Rivera finally understood why an up-and-coming police officer, Jaffe, had become such a close family friend.
“I really began to grasp that she was a first responder there,” Rivera said. “I can remember starting to ask her about it: Hesitantly first, because I didn’t know what her reaction was going to be. But she was always very good about it.”
When Rivera turned 14, her grandmother – overwhelmed by the challenges of raising a teenaged girl – came to Jaffe at the station house with a remarkable proposal.
“They said, she gets along with me, she loves me, and they just said, ‘Could I raise her? Could I take her?’ ” said the then-engaged Jaffe. “I always wanted to have more of a role — I never in my life thought it would turn into where she’d come to live with us.”
Jaffe hesitated to say yes, but her fiance had no problems taking in the motherless little girl.
“I said, ‘Sure, let’s take her, let’s bring her in,’ ” said Doug Lennihan, now a retired lieutenant. “This was after we had taken Christina away for all these weekends and we were involved with her. I really liked her. I loved this little kid.”
Under Jaffe and Lennihan’s care, Rivera graduated from high school and eventually got a job with the state.
Despite how grateful Rivera has been for this second family, she’d always been unhappy that Jaffe never got around to legally adopting her.
“I felt very orphaned, if that makes sense, even though my mom was still my mom and still there for me,” Rivera said. “It was almost like I wanted to be claimed, like, ‘I’m her daughter, I belong to her.’ ”
That emotional hole was finally filled last year.
“I’d seen her ups and downs in life and I said I owe it to this kid,” Jaffe said. “I thought that maybe I was part of the hurt — 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.”
Jaffe’s husband also urged her to take that final, formal step.
“He would say, ‘It’s for you, too. You need it, too,’ ” Jaffe said.
Republished with permission of The New York Post