Neighbors hung pink and white balloons Monday from the front porch of a rowhouse on the 3300 block of North Water Street in Kensington. They lit candles and hugged near a giant teddy bear that sat on the porch. They gathered for an evening vigil that grew to the point that it was hard to move about.
But evidence remained of the tragedy from the day before — when someone fired a rifle at the house, killing a 2-year-old girl inside and wounding two other people, including the girl’s mother. Bullet holes were visible in the front windows, and blood was still smeared on the front door.
“She was a princess,” Cristian Ortiz, 25, said of his slain niece. “She was special, always smiling.”
The shooting was the second time in less than 24 hours that a child was shot in Philadelphia. The 2-year-old girl, identified as Nikolette Rivera, was killed when bullets flew into her home. In Hunting Park, an 11-month-old boy was shot four times when someone fired at the car he was in, driven by his stepmother.
“We are burying a child,” Nikolette’s aunt Amelia Pagan, 42, said at the Kensington vigil. “They’re just killing us. We’re dropping like flies, and nothing is happening, especially in our community.”
City officials on Monday held a somber news conference lamenting the incidents and asking the public to help police bring the offenders to justice. A $30,000 reward was available for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in either case, they said.
A visibly upset Mayor Jim Kenney teared up at times, calling the weekend “horrible.”
“You feel like you’re making progress in the city, and then this weekend happens,” Kenney said. “You feel like you’re just losing ground.”
Acting Police Commissioner Christine M. Coulter said that such shootings cause lingering trauma for victims and residents, who may not feel safe doing routine activities.
“It can’t help but shock and upset their sense of security,” Coulter said. “You should always feel OK in your home.”
Investigators believe someone fired a rifle six times at the house on Water Street around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Homicide Capt. Jason Smith said. Smith said that the motive was unclear but that the home appeared to have been targeted.
It happened about eight minutes after a shooting about a half-mile away, on the 400 block of East Clearfield Street, in which police found shell casings from the same type of rifle, Smith said. Officers also found evidence that a handgun had been fired there.
Police think the shooter’s intended target on Water Street was not at home. Smith said the only people inside were four children, including the 2-year-old; her 24-year-old mother; her grandmother; and a 33-year-old man hired to clean the carpets. The 2-year-old was shot in the head and pronounced dead at the scene.
Smith said the mother — whom he did not identify — had been “holding her daughter at the time of the shooting.” The mother and the carpet cleaner — whom police also did not identify — were struck by gunfire.
Smith said the type of shell casing found outside the house — 7.62x39 mm — is the type of bullet fired from an AK-47 or SKS rifle. Investigators had not yet found eyewitnesses, and did not have a detailed description of any suspects.
At a makeshift memorial on the family’s porch, more than 40 candles burned next to a table of some of the child’s favorite things. She loved makeup, her uncle said, looking at the “Birthday Girl” and “Cookie” flavored lip balm, and “Oh So Shiny” pink lip gloss. When Nikolette would shower, she would ask her mom to let her keep her lipstick on, said her aunt, Cynthia Russell, 24.
Nikolette used to think every day was her birthday, her family said. Any time a candle was lit, she started singing “Happy Birthday.”
On Monday, people lit candles to mourn her death. They wrote messages on them, such as “shine bright ya diamond,” and “I will miss your smile. Never forget.”
“For Nikolette was a light, Father God. I was watching videos of her all day, and she was just funny and sassy and feisty,” Russell said at the vigil, crying and surrounded by family. “She was such a big light on this Earth, Father God.”
In the Hunting Park shooting, Capt. Nicholas Brown of East Detectives said, a woman was driving with her 11-month-old stepson on the 700 block of West Luzerne Street when bullets came flying through the trunk and struck the child four times — once in the head, once in the neck, and twice in the buttocks.
The stepmother did not initially realize the child was shot, Brown said, possibly because she may have been in a panic trying to drive away. Police said she realized the injuries occurred when she got to the 4900 block of Camac Street in Logan.
Brown said one other person in the car may have been the intended target, but he did not elaborate. The shooter used a 9mm handgun, he said.
The baby was taken to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, police said. Brown said that he was in “very, very, very critical condition,” and that if he survives, he is likely to be quadriplegic.
In addition to the reward offered by the city, the police union is offering its own $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
Kenney and others urged lawmakers to take action on gun laws — such as an assault weapons ban — to try to prevent the proliferation and use of such firearms on the city’s streets.
Managing Director Brian Abernathy cited several recent instances of gun violence in the city, including a mother fatally shooting her two young daughters and husband on the same day she bought a gun. “Commonsense gun laws would’ve made a difference in each of these incidents,” he said.