$100 tip gives grieving mother a sign of hope years after losing her 2-year-old to gun violence

Joan Ortiz’s 2-year-old daughter was killed in her arms in their Kensington home in 2019
Joan Ortiz sits next to a picture of her 2-year-old daughter, Nikolette Rivera, who was shot and killed in her arms in their Kensington home in 2019.
Joan Ortiz sits next to a picture of her 2-year-old daughter, Nikolette Rivera, who was shot and killed in her arms in their Kensington home in 2019. Photo credit Courtesy of Joan Ortiz

BENSALEM, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — It’s been nearly three years since 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera was shot and killed while in her mother’s arms inside their Kensington home.

Her mother, Joan Ortiz, continues to cope with severe depression and anxiety as she tries to rebuild her life, all while raising two other children.

It’s been a long road to getting back on her feet. Ortiz became consumed with grief after Nikolette’s death and ended up living in her car for five months. Amid the pain, she was able to forgive her daughter’s killer face-to-face at his sentencing last year.

Today, she’s no longer homeless and has a job waitressing at the Outback Steakhouse in Bensalem, though she admits she still struggles.

During a recent shift at the restaurant, Ortiz accidentally spilled a soda on a customer.

“I tell you [it was] filled to the top,” she laughed. “[Only] a little ice, because she asked for a little ice, so it was all soda.”

She apologized profusely to the woman, but she reassured Ortiz it was OK; they were both having bad days. The woman had been diagnosed with cancer earlier that day.

The two started to bond over their shared grief.

“She starts talking about how she lost her mom to cancer, and she’s scared,” Ortiz recalled. “I was telling her how I was having a rough day because I lost my daughter to gun violence.”

After the table wrapped up their meal and headed toward the door, the customer approached Ortiz.

“She walks up to me and she hands me the money rolled up,” she said. “It was a $100 [tip] on a $25 bill. I wasn’t expecting even $1 from them.”

The woman told Ortiz that she took the soda spill as a sign from God to “cool down.”

“I told her I would pray for her and hope everything came out good,” Ortiz added.

The signs didn’t end there. When Ortiz looked at the check, she saw it was timestamped at 9:18 — Nikolette’s birthday.

“To me, it was another sign from God,” she said. “On a day where, from today forward, your life could be affected and altered forever, and here you are, still blessing someone.”

The act of kindness from a woman who is struggling with her own mortality allowed Oritz to go home and sleep in peace for the first time in a long time.

“[It] just reminded me why I’m a forgiving person,” she said, “and why I would even forgive someone who took my daughter’s life. It’s because when you’re forgiving, you have to leave it to God.

“I will never forget that.”