With outrage over Hadiya Pendleton's slaying spreading from City Hall to the White House, the 15-year-old became a symbol Wednesday of escalating violence in Chicago while fueling the national debate over guns and crime.
A little more than a week after performing with the King College Prep band in Washington during President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, Hadiya was fatally shot Tuesday afternoon in a park about a mile north of Obama's Kenwood home. Two other teens were wounded.
At a White House press briefing Wednesday, Obama spokesman Jay Carney was asked about Hadiya's death. "It's a terrible tragedy any time a young person is struck down with so much of their life ahead of them, and we see it far too often," he said.
Hadiya's slaying also came up in an interview Obama did with Telemundo. The president was asked whether the example of Chicago, with strict gun control laws, gave credence to the National Rifle Association's position that more gun laws don't necessary mean less gun violence.
"Well, the problem is that a huge proportion of those guns come in from outside Chicago," Obama said. The president said it was true that creating a "bunch of pockets of gun laws" without a unified, integrated system of background checks makes it harder for a single community to protect itself from gun violence.
Police announced an $11,000 reward for information leading to the killer's capture and conviction during a Wednesday afternoon news conference at the North Kenwood park where Hadiya was shot.
"I want this closed now," said police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who was among the police chiefs in Washington on Monday to meet with Obama on gun control. "I don't want to wait."
Hadiya was the 42nd homicide victim this year in Chicago, where killings last year climbed above 500. Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke with Hadiya's mother Wednesday morning and later, at an unrelated news conference, said the teenager represented "what is best in our city."
"A child going to school, who takes a final exam, who had just been to inaugural," said Emanuel, looking down at the podium for several seconds to collect himself before continuing. "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, pleaded for someone to step forward and bring the 15-year-old's killer to justice.
"She was destined for great things," he said.
Hadiya was a majorette with the band at King, one of the city's elite selective-enrollment schools. She dreamed of going to Northwestern University and talked about becoming a pharmacist or a journalist, maybe a lawyer.
She had just finished her final exams at King, where she was a sophomore, and was hanging out with friends from the school's volleyball team Tuesday afternoon in a park in the 4400 block of South Oakenwald Avenue. The group sought shelter from a rainstorm under a canopy at the park about 2:20 p.m. when a gunman jumped a fence, ran toward them and opened fire, police said.
As the teens scattered, Hadiya and two teenage boys were shot. Hadiya was hit in the back and pronounced dead at Comer Children's Hospital less than an hour after the shooting. The wounds suffered by the boys were not life-threatening.
McCarthy stressed that neither Hadiya nor anyone in the group she was with were involved with gangs. But it appears the gunman mistook the students for members of a rival gang, he said.
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