News Column

White House Calls Girl's Slaying a 'Terrible Tragedy'

Jan 30, 2013

Jennifer Delgado, Bridget Doyle and John Byrne

As it pushes for national gun control, the White House on Wednesday addressed a tragic shooting close to President Barack Obama's home in Chicago.

Fifteen-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who last week performed at Obama's inaugural festivities, was killed when a gunman opened fire on a group of students just blocks from King College Prep and about a mile from Obama's home in Kenwood on the South Side.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney, asked about Hadiya's death, said it was a "terrible tragedy" any time a young person is struck down "with so much of their life ahead of them."

"The president and first lady's thoughts and prayers are with the family of Hadiya Pendleton," he said. "All of our thoughts and prayers are with her family."

Carney, asked about a petition urging President Barack Obama to attend Pendleton's funeral, said he was not aware of the petition and had no scheduling announcements to make.

When asked if Obama had reached out to Pendleton's family, Carney said he had no communications to share with reporters.

Carney also said that when Obama talks about gun violence in America, he is not talking only about Newtown, Conn., or Aurora, Colo., or Oak Creek, Wis., or Virginia Tech - scenes of high-profile mass killings - but to shootings in Chicago and other parts of the country.

He added that while "we may not be able to prevent every act of gun violence ... we need to take action to reduce gun violence" and "make sure that we're doing everything we can in a responsible way to reduce this violence, to protect our children, including Hadiya Pendleton and others."

Hadiya's death also came up at a news conference by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a particularly violent January in Chicago draws to a close.

Emanuel called Hadiya "what is best in our city" and urged anyone with information about the slaying to come forward.

"If anybody has any information, you are not a snitch, you're a citizen," the mayor said. "You're a good citizen in good standing if you help."

The mayor said he talked Wednesday morning with Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, "going over what we need to do, what differences we have to do, what other tactics we have to adopt." He did not say what plans he and McCarthy discussed.

Later, McCarthy appeared with Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, at a news conference to announce that an $11,000 reward was being offered for information leading to arrests of the girl's killer.

"They took the light of my life," Pendleton said, fighting back tears. "This guy, whoever he was, the gunman, man you took the light of my life. Just look at yourself and just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person."

Shaking his head and collecting himself, he continued: "This kid didn't like violence at all, didn't even like to fight, avoided a fight, moved away from anything that was not positive. She was a majorette, just came back from the inauguration. She was destined for great things and you stripped that from her."

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church on the South Side, said the reward will be "a bounty out on the head of a killer before you kill somebody else."

"Your butt needs to be in jail," he said. "Somebody knows ... right now, sitting in their home some young person knows, some young friend of theirs knows, some parent knows, some adult knows. Where are you?"

Pfleger compared Hadiya's slaying to the mass murder of school children in Newtown, Conn. "We should be just as outraged," he said.

Hadiya was hanging out with her volleyball team at Harsh Park after taking exams Tuesday afternoon. About a dozen teens had taken shelter under a canopy during a rainstorm when a boy or man jumped a fence in the park, ran toward them and opened fire around 2:20 p.m., police said.

Hadiya was wounded in the back and a 16-year-old boy - also a student at King - was shot in the leg, police said. The attacker got into an auto and fled, police said. No arrests have been reported.

On Wednesday, Hadiya's family was inside their South Side home exchanging stories about her quirks and sense of humor.

Ten-year-old Nathaniel Pendleton Jr. recalled the way his big sister would often greet him with a few gentle slaps on his cheeks whenever she came home from school.

"She said it was with love," he said.

Nathaniel etched "I miss you" and "I love you" on his arm Wednesday. "It's very painful to see your big sister get slaughtered," the soft-spoken Nathaniel said, tearing up as he went through photos of his big sister on his phone.

Kimiko Pettis, Hadiya's 32-year-old aunt, laughed when she talked about her niece's goofy personality. "We really miss her," Pettis said. "She was a remarkable young lady and such a great asset to our family."

Hadiya was a busy but lighthearted teen, always trying to get a laugh from her family. Just Tuesday, she put on what she thought was a "fabulous outfit" and make-up before school.

"She popped out of the bathroom saying. 'I'm ready!' " Pettis said, throwing her arms in the air.

Pettis said her niece loved Coldplay and Maroon 5. "You could not find any urban music on her phone," Pettis said with a laugh. "And she had two left feet."

Last year, Hadiya traveled with her school band to perform at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Pettis said. Last week, she had performed at Obama's inauguration festivities. This year's travel plans included Dublin and Paris with the band, her aunt said, a trip she was very much looking forward to.

Though only a sophomore, Hadiya had aspirations to become a pharmacist or a journalist, Pettis said. Because she couldn't decide, family encouraged her to do both with a possible double major. She had interest in attending Northwestern University, her aunt said.

Hadiya was such a whirlwind of activity, relatives would jokingly tell her to slow down.

"There were a lot of good opportunities that were coming her way. She was just taking them all," said Lakeisha Stewart, 37, Hadiya's godmother. "She was the kid who you had to say, 'Slow down, you can't do everything.' "

Just last week, at Obama's inauguration, Hadiya sent her godparents a text and a photo of her and her teammates in Washington, D.C., Stewart said. She had not gotten the chance to talk to Hadiya about the details of the trip since she returned from the East Coast.

Hadiya's parents made sure she stayed involved in school, said her godfather, Damon Stewart, 36, an attorney and Chicago police officer. He said she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Her life was dominated by her activities and the things she was into," he said.

"I've known this little girl her entire life," added Lakeisha Stewart. "I can't think of a moment that this child did anything wrong. She always strived to do the right thing."

At King on Wednesday, Bria Carter and two friends said the halls of the school were unusually quiet as students mourned Hadiya's death.

"People are crying at school," said Carter, 17, a friend of Hadiya. "Those who knew her are so hurt.

"She was an amazing person - always positive," Carter said. "She was one of those people everyone loved. She was the sweetest thing."

Brothers Addison and Zion Morgan said many of their classmates took to social media Tuesday night to express their emotions.

"Based off of the tweets, everyone is surprised and shocked by this," said senior Addison Morgan, 17.

Freshman Zion Morgan, 15, said he was in a U.S. history class with Hadiya. "She was always smiling," Zion Morgan said. "She would always raise her hand in class."

School Principal Shontae Higginbottom said Hadiya was well-loved at the school, and students and staff are devastated.

"This is a great loss to us, she was a wonderful student. She was well-loved by her friends, well-adored by her teachers. We are going to miss her. Our hearts are so heavy, we have to stop the violence, we have to save our children," said Higginbottom.

At the park, neighbors along the well-maintained North Kenwood block could not remember any trouble there before.

The small park's bright blue and orange playground equipment is often used by toddlers down the street, a neighbor said, but otherwise remains quiet.

The neighbor, who declined to be named, lives next door to the park and said it's a "perfect neighborhood."

Teens and older children are not often visitors of the park, he said. The block is filled with "Harvard attorneys," "business owners" and other executives, the neighbor said. "No one knows about our block," he said. "It's a quiet place."

Hadiya's godmother agreed. "It amazed me when I found out what park it was," she said. "Nothing I have ever heard ever goes on over there."

The shooting occurred about a mile from Obama's Kenwood home, but Emanuel said the circumstances do not carry symbolic significance.

"It's not the mile from a house. Wherever it happens in the city of Chicago is where I consider it," the mayor said while talking to reporters at a news conference about a West Humboldt Park company building new seats for CTA buses.

"While you may say it's a mile from the president's house, my view is, it's in the city of Chicago, regardless of where it happens," Emanuel added.

Alderman Will Burns, 4th, appearing with McCarthy, noted that the community and King Prep have steadily improved over the last 20 years.

"King High School went from being one of the worst high schools in the city of Chicago to being a selective enrollment high school," he said. "These young people were going to one of the best schools in the city of Chicago and they were spending their time in a park, which is what parks are there for. For young people to enjoy themselves and recreate and do something positive.

"This is not my community, these are not the people I know and love and no gang controls this ward," he said.

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(Chicago Tribune reporter Carlos Sadovi contributed to this report.)



Source: (c)2013 Chicago Tribune Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.


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