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Hadiya Pendleton: Murdered Honors Student and Symbol of Chicago Violence

Hadiya Pendleton: Murdered Honors Student and Symbol of Chicago Violence

Hadiya Pendleton

Gun control debate intensifies after 15-year-old who performed at inauguration becomes 42nd victim of gun violence this year.

She was the 42nd gun death victim in Chicago this year, a 15-year-old girl in the “wrong place at the wrong time”, according to police. Now the killing of Hadiya Pendleton, an honours student, shot dead just days after performing at President Obama’s inauguration, has become a symbol of the city’s stubbornly high murder rate amid a national debate over gun control.

Hadiya, a student at the elite Kings College prep school and majorette in the school’s marching band, performed with her classmates at several inauguration events last week in Washington. She dreamed of going to Northwestern University and talked about becoming a pharmacist, a journalist, or maybe a lawyer, according to the Chicago Tribune.

She was shot dead on Tuesday afternoon after school, sheltering from torrential rain sweeping Obama’s home town in a park in the South Side with a group of friends, police said.

The area, which is three blocks from Hadiya’s school and about a mile from the president’s home, is a known gang hangout, and police believe she and her friends were mistaken for rivals.

Chicago police said that a man opened fire on the group and, as they scrambled to escape, Hadiya was shot in the back. Two other students were wounded.

Hadiya, 15, did not have an arrest record, and there is no indication she or any of the group were part of a gang, police told ABC News on Thursday.

Her death was cited during the Senate hearing on gun control this week and, at the White House, a spokesman said the Obamas were praying for her family. In an interview with Telemundo, a US television network that broadcasts in Spanish, Obama was asked whether the violence in Chicago, which has strict gun laws, lent credence to the arguments put forward by the National Rifle Association that tougher gun legislation doesn’t prevent violence.

Obama talked about about how a “huge proportion of these guns come in from outside Chicago.” The president said that creating a “bunch of pockets of gun laws” allows weapons to be brought in to cities with strict controls from outside. He is pushing for an integrated system of background checks, among other gun control measures.

Police are now offering an $11,000 reward for information that would lead to the capture and conviction of the man who killed Hadiya, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I want this closed now,” said Garry McCarthy, the police superintendent who was among the law enforcement chiefs who were in Washington on Monday to discuss gun control with Obama. “I don’t want to wait.”

No bullet casings were found at the crime scene, leading police to believe that Hadiya may have been shot with a revolver, McCarthy said. While it took a while to gather witnesses, police said they were making “a lot of progress”.

The city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who is one of a group of city leaders advocating strict gun controls, said he spoke with Hadiya’s mother on Wednesday morning. Later, at an unrelated news conference, Emanuel said the teenager represented “what is best in our city” and urged witnesses to come forward.

“A child going to school, who takes a final exam, who had just been to inaugural,” said Emanuel. “And I think if anybody has any information, you are not a snitch, you’re a citizen. You’re a good citizen in good standing if you help.”

Hadiya’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, said the killer had taken the “light of my life”. At a press conference on Wednesday, attended by Hadiya’s father, mother and 10-year old brother, Nathaniel, he spoke directly to the killer: “Look at yourself, just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person.”

Hadiya’s shooting comes as Chicago struggles with its bloodiest January in a decade. Last year 500 people were murdered in Chicago.

Police say the city’s gang problem and a proliferation of guns is to blame for its high murder rate. McCarthy wants lawmakers to increase sentences for those who are caught with illegal weapons, including in cases of so-called “straw purchases” in which people buy guns for others.

One mother, Shirley Chambers, has had to endure the deaths of all four of her children in shootings in Chicago. Ronnie Chambers’ death on Saturday came after his brother Carlos was shot and killed in 1995, his sister La Toya in 2000, and his brother Jerome also in 2000.


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