A middle school student was gunned down Tuesday in what law enforcement officials are calling a targeted murder, and the victim’s family is begging for information leading to the arrest of his killer.
At a press conference held Thursday morning, Feb. 17, in the lobby of the Lebanon County Municipal Building, Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf identified the victim of Tuesday night homicide in South Lebanon Township and called for the public’s help in identifying the shooter and bringing them to justice.
The victim was identified as Jason R. Rivera, a seventh-grade student at Lebanon Middle School.
At the press conference, Hess Graf confirmed details of earlier reports regarding the incident. She said police responded to calls of multiple gunshots fired Tuesday night on the 300 block of Vine Street and arrived to find Rivera in a parking lot suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.
Lifesaving measures were taken at the scene before Rivera was transported by EMS to Hershey Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries late Tuesday evening.
In addition to Hess Graf, two of Rivera’s family members – his aunt and his grandmother – appeared at the press conference to make a direct public appeal for help bringing the assailant to justice. Per their wishes, the family members were not identified except for their relationships to Rivera.
Hess Graf said that the shooting appeared to be a targeted and brutal murder, but did not go into details about potential leads or circumstances surrounding the event, and no questions were taken at the conclusion of the press conference.
Hess Graf painted a portrait of the victim as a boy whose future was stolen from him. Hess Graf said that interviews with Rivera’s family revealed a love of basketball and football, including an appearance last year in the Sweep the Streets tournament. Called “Jay” by his loved ones, Rivera was said to play Fortnite obsessively, and he pined for the latest pair of Air Jordans – hobbies familiar to so many of his peers.
“He was so excited to turn 16 and learn how to drive,” said Hess Graf. But those opportunities were extinguished prematurely with Tuesday’s slaying of the child, who she said family members called loving, kind, sweet, and respectful.
“That child was a little boy who loved to laugh and joke with his family,” she said. “He was a good kid.”
Hess Graf said a photo of Jason was shared by his family to show the community what at true victim of gun violence looks like.
Appearing at the press conference, Rivera’s aunt said the child was like her own. “I loved him,” she said. “This is not okay. He wasn’t supposed to go like this. Not in this way. He didn’t deserve it – at all.”
Rivera’s aunt said that Jason was full of life – smart, funny, outgoing. “He would make anybody’s day better,” she said. “He liked to talk about everything.”
“I’m never going to have him again,” she said.
Rivera’s grandmother also spoke at the press conference and shared a heart-wrenching appeal to the public for their help in addressing the gun violence epidemic.
“At the time this happened, there were no family members there to let him know that everything would be okay,” said his grandmother, “because it wasn’t okay.”
His grandmother said that, at 13 years old, Jason had his whole life in front of him, but now he will never be able to do so much of what he dreamed, like escorting his sister to her sweet 16, or even the simple pleasures of being held by his mother, talking to his father, or just being around his three siblings who loved him.
“There’s never words to say how we feel, but I do want to say if anyone knows anything, please, whatever little thing you think it might be, that it’s not important, please come out and say something,” she said.
“We want all the other mothers and fathers and family members out there to know that this could happen to their children,” she said. “We need this gun violence to stop.”
His grandmother said that the family also wanted to tell Jason’s friends, team members, and teachers from school that they were so grateful and thankful to them for attending a Wednesday night candlelight vigil.
“Jason, we love you,” she said.
Hess Graf noted that the phenomenon of increased brutal and senseless violence, in particular gun violence, was national in scope, but emphasized that Lebanon County was not fated to endure the same magnitude of gun violence currently facing cities like Philadelphia and Chicago.
“We are here today with Jason’s family with one message: enough is enough,” said Hess Graf.
Witnesses in cases like this are often reluctant to talk to police and refuse to cooperate with investigations, Hess Graf said. However, she emphasized that Rivera’s family wants to face Jason’s killer, and the point of the press conference was to show a united front between law enforcement and his family.
“This family wants community involvement, they want witnesses to come forward,” said Hess Graf. “They are begging for justice for their child.”
Anyone with information was urged by Hess Graf and Rivera’s family to contact authorities. Individuals wishing to make a tip can call the South Lebanon Township Police Department at 717-272-2054, the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office at 717-228-4412, the Lebanon County Detective Bureau at 717-228-4403, or Lebanon County CrimeStoppers at 717-270-9800.
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