Clarification: An earlier version of this article reported that authorities said the rifle used in Nikolette Rivera’s shooting was an AK-47. The story has been updated to reflect what authorities later said — that it was an SKS.
An SKS assault rifle used in the shooting that killed 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera in her Kensington home last year has been recovered in Camden, law enforcement officials from Pennsylvania and New Jersey announced Monday.
The weapon was among 36 guns recovered, according to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, police, and federal authorities, who spoke at a news conference at the Camden County Police Administration Building in Camden.
Authorities, who dubbed the case “Operation Zombie,” said five people involved in a major Philadelphia-based ring that illegally trafficked numerous guns and methamphetamine into Camden have been charged.
The weapon that killed Nikolette was sold by the ring in December in Camden, officials said, adding that authorities at the time did not know it had been used in that shooting.
Also recovered were 20 handguns, five AR-type rifles, a .22 military-style rifle, a 9 mm Uzi mini-carbine, five shotguns, a sawed-off shotgun, and two AK-47 rifles.
One of the recovered guns sold by the ring, a 9 mm handgun, has been linked to a September 2019 Philadelphia shooting in which no one was hit, authorities said.
More than 20 ounces of methamphetamine, equaling as many as 14,000 individual doses, were also recovered, officials said.
Arrested and charged last week were: Robert “Zombie” Crosley III, 32, accused of managing the gun-trafficking conspiracy; Matthew Zoba, 38, who allegedly managed the drug trafficking conspiracy; and Victoria Zipf, 33, Zoba’s girlfriend, accused of acting as a straw purchaser and assisting in gun and drug sales. Arrested Monday was Michael Snyder, 44, who allegedly acted as a straw purchaser and assisted in gun and drug sales.
Crosley and Zoba are each charged with first-degree promoting organized street crime, first-degree distribution of methamphetamine, and second-degree possession of a gun by a convicted felon.
In addition, authorities said one man was charged but had not been arrested as of 5 p.m. Monday: Yuri Lyubinskiy, 39, who allegedly assisted in gun and drug sales.
All five are from Philadelphia, and are all charged with conspiracy in connection with the gun trafficking, transporting firearms into the state for illegal sale or transfer, and related offenses, authorities said.
An attorney listed as representing Crosley could not be immediately reached for comment. It was not known if the other four defendants had attorneys.
Shapiro and Grewal also announced a new law enforcement initiative between their states called the PA/NJ Gun Trafficking Initiative. It is intended to promote intelligence-sharing to enable law enforcement in both states to identify and investigate interstate gun trafficking and criminal conduct on both sides of the Delaware River.
Operation Zombie was a joint investigation by the offices of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania attorneys general; the New Jersey State Police; the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia; the FBI; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Philadelphia Police Department.
Nikolette was shot once in the head while in her mother’s arms about 3:30 p.m. Oct. 20, when a gunman fired into the family’s home on the 3300 block of North Water Street. The toddler was pronounced dead at the scene. Wounded in the shooting were a carpet cleaner, Arik Enatayev, 33, who was hit in the stomach, and Nikolette’s mother, Joan Ortiz, who was shot in an arm.
The alleged gunman, Tayvon Thomas, 25, of North Philadelphia, and an accomplice, Freddie Perez, 30, of Kensington, intended to shoot at the girl’s father, Nikolai Rivera, in an effort to seize control of a Kensington drug corner, authorities have said. But the father was not home. Thomas and Perez, who are in custody, face trial on murder and related charges.
Philadelphia police have said that another man, Francisco Ortiz, is believed to have supplied the rifle that Thomas allegedly used in the shooting. They declined in October to specify whether Francisco Ortiz gave or sold the rifle to Thomas, and authorities on Monday declined to say how the weapon allegedly got from him to Thomas.
Ortiz, 29, of North Philadelphia, is in custody and faces trial on attempted murder and related offenses in a separate Oct. 19 shooting, in which he allegedly fired a gun into a car in Hunting Park that critically wounded 11-month-old Yazeem Jenkins.