Memorial to honor 5-year-old Tiffany Miller, murdered in New Kensington 40 years ago
It doesn’t take long looking at Tiffany Miller’s well-kept grave at Union Cemetery in Arnold to realize her death was a tragedy.
Tiffany was 5 years old when she died 40 years ago in 1979. She might have said she was almost 6, her birthday coming in December.
While her headstone shows a date of death — Sept. 29, 1979 — that’s only a guess. No one knows when Tiffany died. That’s the date her body was found in the Allegheny River, eight days after she disappeared from her home in New Kensington’s Peach Court.
Tiffany’s death was ruled a homicide, and it remains unsolved.
But the relocation of a playground in Tiffany’s neighborhood has spawned an effort to remember her.
Aaron Moore, a friend of Tiffany’s family, hopes to raise $3,000 to place a buddy bench with a plaque in the new JFK Park about to be built in what’s now a flat patch of grass along Fourth Avenue next to Mt. Calvary Baptist Church.
The park, named for President John F. Kennedy, is being rebuilt after the city sold its former location on 11th Street to UniFirst, which wanted the land for an expansion.
The new playground will have a tot lot bigger than the old one, but it will not include the basketball courts that were at the original location, city Engineer Tony Males said. It will include two sets of play equipment, one for children ages 2 to 5 and another for those ages 5 to 12.
It will cost about $130,000.
“It will be a significant upgrade,” Males said. “The new location is probably more centralized than the old one.”
The basketball courts will be relocated to a park proposed to be built on a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Barnes Street and Eighth Street, Males said.
Construction on the playground is scheduled to start Sept. 30 and will be finished in mid-November, city Councilman Dante Cicconi said.
Tiffany’s name may be incorporated into the name of the park, such as “JFK Park in Remembrance of Tiffany Miller,” Cicconi said.
The city is providing space in the playground for the bench for Tiffany, but the family and their friends have to come up with the money for the memorial.
Moore said he will be pursuing donations, in part through a GoFundMe campaign he plans to launch.
Moore, 48, who now lives in Arnold, was a few years older than Tiffany and lived across the street from her family in Pine Court. She died not long after his eighth birthday.
“I remember when she disappeared and they were looking for her. I remember like it was yesterday,” he said. “I remember my mom coming into my room and telling me they found her body. I remember that well.”
Between raising the money and the time for a bench to be made, Moore said he’d like to have it ready to be dedicated in the spring.
Tiffany’s mother, Gail Rivera, said the memorial at the playground would be the first for her daughter, and she supports it.
Rivera, 61, now lives in Wilkinsburg. She doesn’t mark the anniversary. “It’s just too hard,” she said.
“I always think about her,” she said. “I often wonder what she would be like, who she would look like, how she would grow up.”
Rivera reported Tiffany missing on the morning of Sept. 21, 1979. She last saw Tiffany when she put her to bed at 10 the night before; Tiffany was gone when she went to check on her around 5 a.m. that morning.
A worker at Lock and Dam No. 2 in Plum, five miles from Peach Court, reported a body in the Allegheny River around 10 p.m. Sept. 29, 1979.
Police suspected foul play.
New Kensington police Chief Bob Deringer did not respond to requests to discuss the case.
Rivera said she doesn’t hear anything from police about the investigation, and worries her daughter has been forgotten.
“It’s like they put everything on the back burner about my daughter’s murder,” she said. “I just want the case to be solved.”
Moore said Tiffany is part of New Kensington’s history and deserves to be remembered.
“Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to grow up,” Moore said. “She’s just as much a part of New Kensington as any of us.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .