Washington Officials Join in Mourning a Young Shooting Victim in Chicago
By MONICA DAVEY and STEVEN YACCINO
CHICAGO — By the hundreds, mourners filed into the pews of a packed church on this city’s South Side on Saturday, clutching one another, weeping and wearing buttons adorned with the smiling face of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl whose death has come to represent the miserable cost of gun and gang violence.
“She is a representative not just of the people in Chicago, she is a representative of people across this nation who have lost their lives,” said Damon Stewart, Ms. Pendleton’s godfather, as he urged people not to politicize her death.
An array of Washington officials — the first lady, Michelle Obama; Arne Duncan, the education secretary; and Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser — were among dignitaries seated in the front row. Ms. Pendleton, a member of her high school’s majorette team, traveled to Washington to perform during President Obama’s inauguration festivities only a week before she was fatally shot here.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has met with the girl’s family and spoken emotionally of her dreams for her future, attended, too, as did Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, who had alluded to Ms. Pendleton in his State of the State address.
As an emerging national debate about firearms has focused largely on mass shootings in places like Newtown, Conn., Ms. Pendleton’s death last month became a symbol for a different element of gun violence — urban and often overlooked or quickly forgotten. Ms. Pendleton, a student at King College Prep High School, was shot Jan. 29 as she sat after school in a park, about a mile from Mr. Obama’s Chicago home, with friends — a group that the police say was probably mistakenly swept up in the cross-fire of a gang fight.
In Chicago, people said they viewed the sudden flood of attention on Ms. Pendleton as a needed shift in the consciousness of the nation’s third-largest city, which experienced more than 500 homicides in 2012, many of them from gun violence, and 46 more deaths since the start of 2013. If the city had grown inured at times to the stories of gang-related shootings, largely on the South and West Sides, Ms. Pendleton’s death appeared — at least for now — to have reawakened many people, even those in more upscale neighborhoods away from the worst of the violence and far beyond Chicago.
So many people, including some who said they had never met Ms. Pendleton personally, had felt drawn to her funeral that space in the sanctuary and in an overflow room ran out and scores had to be turned away.
“It should be a tipping point,” Andre Smith, head of Chicago Against Violence, a local group aimed at preventing neighborhood violence, said Friday, as he and scores of others attended a visitation for Ms. Pendleton, whom he had not known. “I just hope that it’s not here today and gone tomorrow.”
In the days since Ms. Pendleton’s killing, a debate had ensued here over what the White House response should be. Some, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and local newspaper editorial boards, had urged Mr. Obama to appear at the girl’s funeral.
Some said he needed to draw the same attention to violence in his hometown and to the complicated urban questions of poverty, joblessness and gangs that he had given earlier to the mass shootings in Connecticut and elsewhere. Others, though, said that a White House presence would only politicize the funeral of a young girl and create a needless media spectacle, even as scores of other Chicagoans had died in violence here with little notice at all.
Asked why Mr. Obama, who is expected to address gun restrictions in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, had chosen not to attend Ms. Pendleton’s funeral, his spokesman pointed out late last week that Mrs. Obama and others from the administration would attend.
“I think that represents the feeling that the president and the first lady both have about what happened to her and the tragedy that it represents both in real concrete terms to her family but also symbolically because of the tragedy of gun violence that our country has to deal with all too often,” the spokesman, Jay Carney, said. Displayed on the back of a glossy funeral program for Ms. Pendleton was a copy of a handwritten note from the president to Ms. Pendleton’s parents, which read, in part: “We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence. God Bless, Barack Obama.”
Family members of Ms. Pendleton said they were touched and honored that Mrs. Obama, who has lived on the South Side of Chicago, attended the service and met privately with family members and about 30 of her friends and classmates beforehand. Mrs. Obama made no public remarks during the three-and-a-half-hour funeral, nor did the elected officials here.
“She has daughters,” said Shatira Wilks, a cousin of Ms. Pendleton’s. “She understands She’s not being intrusive. It’s not about her being seen.”
For Ms. Pendleton’s family, the gathering was not about politics, but about Hadiya. Friends and family described the girl, who had once appeared in a video aimed at discouraging children from joining gangs, as a sweet and cheerful young woman who twirled batons on the majorette team, was considering going to college to become a journalist or pharmacist, and favored Chinese food, cheeseburgers, ice cream and Fig Newtons. Images of Ms. Pendleton flashed on a screen and filled the program book — a tiny child wrapped in a baby blanket, a girl propped on the Easter Bunny’s lap, a teen, smiling widely, with Washington landmarks in the background.
One by one, high school friends stepped shakily to a microphone to tell of a girl with a trademark, room-warming smile, the one who forgot her baton from time to time but always remembered her lip gloss, the one who whispered the right answers to them in chemistry class. Many pleaded for an end to violence. “It’s sad,” one girl said, reading a poem for her dead friend, “that you have to watch your front while watching your back.”
Around 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, Ms. Pendleton walked with friends to Harsh Park in the North Kenwood neighborhood. As the group huddled under a canopy as it began to rain, a man suddenly approached, jumped a fence, ran toward the group, and began shooting.
The police believe that the man mistook the group for members of a gang. Ms. Pendleton, who the police say was an unintended target with no ties to gangs, was shot in the back. By Saturday, no arrests had been made in the case.
Ms. Pendleton’s mother, Cleopatra, rose to the microphone at one point, not far from her daughter’s coffin. She thanked family members and the crowded room for what she described as an amazing outpouring of support, then grew quieter.
“You don’t know everything,” she said. “You don’t know how hard this really is. And those of you who do know how hard this is, I’m sorry. No mother, no father should ever have to experience this.”
Michael D. Shear contributed reporting from Washington, and Catrin Einhorn from New York.
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