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Preliminary autopsy results released in correctional officer slaying

A stab wound to the heart took the life of Jose Rivera, a 22-year-old federal correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater, according to a preliminary autopsy results released Tuesday by the Merced County Sheriff/Coroner.

Although the details of the autopsy emerged four days after he was allegedly stabbed to death at the hands of two inmates at the prison, officials released no new details about the circumstances surrounding his death.

According to autopsy’s preliminary results, Rivera suffered from multiple puncture wounds to the upper torso and back. One of the puncture wounds pierced Rivera’s heart, killing him, said Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the Merced County Sheriff/Coroner.

MacKenzie said the department was not going to release any further information about the autopsy, at the request of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as it might “interfere with their investigation.”

Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California, said the names of the suspects probably will not be released until they are indicted. Horwood did not say when that would happen.

Horwood added that more information about the stabbing probably will not be released until that time.

“That’s the kind of information that we would not want to put out, since (the investigation) is still ongoing,” she said.

In the meantime, Terry Rivera and the rest of her family are mourning their “Pep” — which is short for his nickname, “Peabody.” Terry Rivera said she’s not sure why her son’s friends gave him that nickname — but it stayed with him nonetheless.

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A tribute to Rivera

His friends and family described his as a goal-oriented man with a big smile who loved the Oakland A’s, going paint-balling with friends and enjoying his mother’s home cooked quesadillas.

Above all else, however, he was a family man — one his mother, 42-year-old Terry Rivera, calls her hero.

Rivera was the third of five children. He graduated from Le Grand High School in 2003 — an occasion which was particularly joyous because his mother graduated from adult high school the same year. He lived in Merced with his girlfriend, Lisa Rosales, 19.In his quest to “see the world,” he served four years in the U.S. Navy, including two tours in Iraq.

Rivera began as a correctional officer about 10 months ago — a tough job he took to further his career aspirations in law enforcement. Terry Rivera said her son ultimately wanted to become an officer in the California Highway Patrol.

“He wanted to have a good job so that if we ever needed his help, he would be there for us,” Terry Rivera remembered. “He didn’t want to be out here making minimum wage.”

Terry Rivera said her son was very physically fit and liked to jog often. While in high school, there were few sports he didn’t try out for, playing basketball and football.

“He wanted to do everything,” Terryu Rivera said.

Other than his mother’s home cooked Mexican meals, he loved bean dip from Raley’s supermarket. And Terry Rivera said there was never a day when her son didn’t call her to check-in.

“He was actually a mamma’s boy,” Rivera fondly recalled. “He always wanted me to be proud of him and everything that he did. He’s just my hero.”

A rosary for Rivera is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Patrick’s Parish, 671 East Yosemite Ave. His funeral is scheduled at 1 p.m. Friday at St. Patrick’s.

Donations to Rivera's family can be made at any Bank of America branch to account No. 18032-67082.\

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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