Mother of 2-year-old killed in shooting pleads for peace

Joan Ortiz, the mother of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera, who was killed in a 2019 shooting, speaks about the case Monday, Aug. 23.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Joan Ortiz wouldn’t normally speak up, but she’s delivering a message for her 2-year-old daughter, Nikolette Rivera, who was killed in a 2019 shooting.

“Before you pick a gun up, just realize you’re not only taking someone’s life, but you’re also taking your own,” she said.

Nikolette’s death, brought on by indiscriminate gunfire, shocked Philadelphia, a city scarred by violence.

Ortiz spoke at a District Attorney’s Office news conference Monday, days after one of the two men charged with Nikolette’s death was sentenced.

Tayvon Thomas, 27, will spend at least 55 years behind bars, and, if he gets denied parole, Thomas could effectively serve a life sentence, with a maximum of 110 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and a host of other charges.

“It’s in my mind a pretty clear message for anyone who is thinking that the solution to your problem, the solution to your situation, involves a gun,” DA Larry Krasner said. “There are consequences and those consequences are very, very real.”

Larry Krasner speaks Monday, Aug. 23, about the 2019 fatal shooting of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera.PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Prosecutors say Thomas, who was armed with a rifle, and 32-year-old Freddie Perez showed up to Ortiz’s house in Kensington looking for Nikolette’s father, who they believed to be involved in a local drug gang.

When they saw a man, a carpet cleaner Ortiz was expecting, go into the home, both men opened fire through the door, said Assistant District Attorney Jeff Hojnowski.

Nikolette was shot in the head and died instantly, and gunfire also struck Ortiz and the carpet cleaner, according to authorities.

About an hour earlier, the two men allegedly opened fire on a black SUV at the corner of Clearfield and Boudinot streets in Kensington. Thomas also shot in the direction of a man in a wheelchair and a 14-year-old girl who were unloading groceries nearby, though neither were hit, Hojnowski said.

While in jail awaiting court proceedings, Thomas intentionally flooded his cell and stabbed three guards with a makeshift knife. Hojnowski said one of the correctional officers never returned to work.

Thomas was sentenced Thursday on charges related to all three incidents. Perez is expected to plead guilty at a hearing later this month, Hojnowski said.

Carmen Ortiz wears a mask commemorating the life of her 2-year-old granddaughter, Nikolette Rivera, who was killed in a 2019 shooting.PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

At Monday’s news conference, Nikolette’s youngest brother played with a scooter, and Carmen Ortiz wore a mask memorializing her granddaughter.

“This is the end of the justice part, but the pain — it lasts forever,” Joan Ortiz said. “It’s never gonna go away. Just think about it, you’re hurting so many people. You can also lose your life. There’s not much you can get away with in life.”