Thirty years ago, the Palm Sunday Massacre terrified a nation and a young girl who lived just a few blocks from where it happened. That girl was me. Ten people were murdered in their home that day in 1984. Eight of them were children. A family was gone. Except for 13-month-old Christina Rivera, the crying baby found covered in blood.
Officer Joanne Jaffe was one of the first on the scene. She was the first to hold Christina, and Jaffe was assigned to watch over the baby through the night at the hospital. A bond was formed and Jaffe wanted to adopt her. Surviving family members ended up taking care of Christina, but the bond between this officer and the baby never broke even as she grew up. And now, all these years later, that bond is stronger than ever. Jaffe was finally able to adopt Christina.
There are photos from that day. Horrible, terrifying photos. In that Liberty Avenue home in Brooklyn, Christina's mother, Carmen Perez, was killed. She was only 20. Also murdered were Christina's half brothers Alberto, 5, and Noel, 3. Several of her cousins were also senselessly slain. But there was one photo of hope. The one of 13-month-old Christina being held by Officer Jaffe.
"I can’t imagine my life without her," Christina told The New York Times, speaking of her life to the media for the first time. "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."
It needs to be noted that during this time, Jaffe became the Police Department’s highest-ranking female chief. And if we were to rank human behavior, I believe Jaffe is among the highest there ever could be as well. In the midst of this unthinkable crime and violence, there was hope and softness.
"I was assigned to her and fell in love with her," Chief Jaffe recalled. Officer Jaffe became Christina's benefactor, then a surrogate parent. She became a presence in Christina's life. When she turned 14, Christina officially moved in, and last year, Christina, now 31, was adopted by Jaffe.
There were several times over the years that Jaffe tried to adopt Christina, who called Jaffe "mom," but many factors got in the way. When Christina's grandmother passed away -- the woman who took care of her -- she said, "I felt very orphaned, if that makes sense, even though my mom was still my mom and still there for me. It was almost like I wanted to be claimed, like, 'I’m her daughter, I belong to her.'"
Sometimes lives are pushed together through extraordinary circumstances and we cannot deny a beauty, a light, a sign that two people should be together even when there is darkness.
What do you think of this story? Do you recall the Palm Sunday Massacre?
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