NYPD Chief Adopts the Palm Sunday Massacre Survivor She Raised


And now for something that affirms the human spirit: the Sunday edition of the New York Times has a story on the cop who picked up the lone survivor of the city’s notorious Palm Sunday Massacre 30 years ago – one year old Christina Rivera – and has parented her ever since.

Joanne Jaffe was one of the first responders to arrive on the scene, after Christopher Thomas shot Christina’s mother and two half brothers (along with seven other victims in total) to death. Somebody handed Christina, who was found covered in blood and crying among the bodies, to Jaffe, which was immortalized in an iconic New York Post cover.

Over the years, Christina lived with her father and then grandmother, while Jaffe visited often, and then invited the girl to live permanently with her and her new husband when she was a teenager. Over the years, she struggled to come to terms with her dormant grief:

Chief Jaffe recalled that she had told Christina that her mother would be “unbelievably proud” of her daughter and “what a caring, thoughtful person you were.” But Christina found no deeper meaning or connection in the visit; she said she “wasn’t at a place yet where I could let it reach me.”
She would come to better understand the significance of her loss a few years later while working at an office day care center. One day, a little girl began to cry. Ms. Rivera picked her up and tried to comfort her, but the child was inconsolable. Eventually, Ms. Rivera called the child’s mother, who was nearby. When the mother arrived, the child almost leapt from Ms. Rivera’s arms to her mother’s. The crisis was resolved.

The entire piece, which is well worth reading, has a running theme on how Jaffe – who would become the NYPD’s highest-ranking female chief – wasn’t able to completely replace Christina’s mother, but nurtured her all the same. It ends with Jaffe adopting Christina at 31 years old for this reason: ” ‘I thought that maybe I was part of the hurt — I’d promised her as a kid and I never followed through.’ ”

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