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A man who fatally shot a 2-year-old in Kensington was sentenced to at least 55 years in prison

The mother of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera said she remained devastated by the killing, but that she also forgave the gunman, Tayvon Thomas.

Joan Ortiz, center, the mother of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera, who was fatally shot in a botched drug shooting in Kensington in October 2019.
Joan Ortiz, center, the mother of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera, who was fatally shot in a botched drug shooting in Kensington in October 2019.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

As Tayvon Thomas was guided out of a Center City courtroom Thursday and toward a 55-year prison term, Joan Ortiz had a last-minute message for the man who killed her 2-year-old daughter, Nikolette:


Ortiz had already described the pain of losing her child, testifying during Thomas’ sentencing hearing that Nikolette was in her arms when Thomas and another man blasted shots through the walls of their home during a botched drug shooting in 2019.

But Ortiz wanted Thomas to serve his prison time without her last words to him being an expression of outrage. So as sheriff’s deputies led him out of the courtroom in handcuffs, she asked Assistant District Attorney Jeff Hojnowski to tell Thomas she forgives him.

“I didn’t want to hold any anger,” Ortiz said after the hearing, wiping tears from her face. “There’s nothing that can bring my daughter back.”

The melancholy scene marked one of the final chapters of a killing that led to public outcry. Thomas and an accused coconspirator, Freddie Perez, were charged with indiscriminately firing shots into the family’s Kensington rowhouse in a botched attempt to target Nikolette’s father over a drug dispute.

The shooting, which also injured Ortiz and a carpet cleaner who was inside her house at the time, capped a gruesome week of violence against children, prompting outrage from residents and officials including from Mayor Jim Kenney and then-Commissioner Christine Coulter.

Thomas pleaded guilty earlier this year to killing Nikolette by shooting an AK-47 into her house. Perez’s case remains pending.

Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Ransom said little when imposing Thomas’ sentence, which also covered his actions in two other crimes. The first was another shooting the same day Thomas killed Nikolette, Oct. 20, 2019, when he fired his rifle at a passing SUV not long before killing the toddler on the 3300 block of Water Street.

The second was an assault in the city’s jail last May, when he stabbed three jail guards with a shank after flooding his cell by clogging the toilet.

Thomas spoke briefly during Thursday’s hearing, apologizing to Ortiz and saying he took “full responsibility” for his actions that day.

His attorney, Earl Kauffman, said Thomas had consistently admitted to firing the rifle, telling Kauffman not long after his arrest that he didn’t mean to shoot the toddler. Kauffman also said Thomas had an exceptionally difficult childhood and that an uncle had poured boiling water on him when he was just 8 months old.

Ortiz said after the hearing that she was angriest at the criminal justice system, since Thomas had racked up more than a dozen arrests without seeming to get the type of help — or prison sentence — that might have stopped his streak of crimes.

She told the judge that her daughter “was everything to me” and that it was painful to see her remaining children grow up without their sister.

“My life,” Ortiz said, “is just stuck on October 20, 2019.”