'Walking angel': Girl who performed at Obama's inauguration shot dead in Chicago
'Happiest day of her life and then she's gone'
Hadiya Pendleton, 15, a student at King College Prep, was killed Tuesday at a Chicago park.
By Tracy Connor, Staff Writer, NBC News
A 15-year-old girl who performed at President Obama's inauguration last week was shot dead Tuesday while hanging out with friends after school in bullet-scarred Chicago.
Pendleton was shot in the back but managed to run about a block before she collapsed, officer Laura Kubiak said. She died at the hospital.
A 16-year-old boy was wounded in the 2:20 p.m. incident. Police said Pendleton, who had no criminal record, was probably not the intended target.
“Never in a million years did I think I would get a call that my own baby had been gunned down,” Pendleton’s mother, Cleo Cowley, said through tears from her Chicago home.
She had a 10-year-old brother, Junior, who worshipped her.
“He’s crushed because she loved, loved, loved her brother,” Cowley said. “From the moment I had him, she wanted a little sibling and at the age of 5 she started mothering him.”
“She had a heart that was huge,” her mother said, her voice cracking. “She had her own brain. She didn’t roll with the crowd. If there was someone being ostracized, she was their friend, because she said everyone needs a friend.”
She said she was at work Tuesday afternoon when she got an unexpected call from one of her daughter’s friends.
“She was screaming on the phone that Hadiya’s been shot, she’s been shot, and I just didn’t understand,” said Cowley.
Photos of Hadiya Pendleton from her trip to Washington.
She and other relatives described the teen as a honor student, an insatiable reader who still found time to play volleyball and a twirl a baton in the school marching band.
“As usual, the bad guy aims, but he never hits the other bad guy . . . He hits the one that hurts the most to lose,” the victim’s godfather, Damon Stewart, 36, who is a police officer, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I changed her diapers, I played with her growing up. My heart is broken.”
A sophomore at selective King College Prep High School, Pendleton had traveled to Washington to perform with the band at inaugural events.
“It was the highlight of her young 15-year-old life,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday at a Senate hearing on gun violence.
“Just a matter of days after the happiest day of her life, she’s gone.”
For Obama, the shooting hits home at a time when he is pushing Congress to enact stricter gun laws that he says would curb not only mass shootings but also everyday gun violence in cities such as his home town of Chicago. So far this year, 42 have been killed, making the month the most deadly January in the city in more than 10 years.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the “thoughts and prayers” of President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were with Pendleton’s family. He also reiterated the Obama administration’s position that those in Washington “have an obligation to try” to forge bipartisan agreement on gun control if it means that even one life can be saved.
“Well, it’s a terrible tragedy — anytime a young person is struck down with so much of their life ahead of them, and we see it far too often.... The president has more than once when he talks about gun violence in America referred not just to the horror of Newtown or Aurora or Virginia Tech or Oak Creek but to shootings on the corner in Chicago or other parts of the country,” Carney said. “And this is just another example of the problem that we need to deal with.”
Cousin Shatira Wilks said the inauguration trip was the talk of a family gathering around New Year’s, but the young majorette was even more excited about something else: plans to travel to Europe this spring with the band.
“She was an honor student all her life,” Wilks said. “Honestly, she was a walking angel. She never once gave her mom any problems ever.”
Wilks said the teen doted on her 10-year-old brother, Junior, who is devastated.
“At Christmas this year, she was designated the elf and she handed out all the gifts,” she recalled.
“She loved rock music. She was always listening and playing to music,” Wilks said,. “What you would usually catching her doing is texting on her phone, like all the teenagers.”
Pendleton last tweeted just before 1 a.m. on Tuesday. “I’m tired,” she wrote.
Many of her classmates changed their Twitter handles to honor her and decried the violence that had claimed an innocent life.
“You are more than loved and missed,” one wrote. “Your laugh smile and silly happy personality has made my day more times than I can remember. Nobody deserves this, especially not you.”
Friends of the young majorette described her as a bubbly, well-liked student.
“She was always smiling and laughing,” said Tyler Genovesi, 14. “She was just a really nice person. … There’s a lot of people crying in school today. It’s very sad. The band is playing for her right now.”
Since Saturday, Chicago has recorded 11 homicides--nine by gunshot. And the toll on parents across the city is mounting. NBC's John Yang reports.
Pendleton's murder was one of three shooting deaths in the city on Tuesday. More than 40 people have been shot dead in Chicago since the beginning of the year. There were 506 homicides in the city last year, a 16 percent increase even as other large cities, like New York, saw murders drop.
“We are awash in guns,” Durbin said, noting that six times as many guns as confiscated in Chicago as in New York each year. We have guns everywhere and some believe the solution to this is more guns. I disagree.”
Cowley broke down sobbing when she was told that her daughter’s death had been mentioned in the Senate.
“Something does need to change,” she said. “Where are the guns coming from? I don’t own a gun. My daughter was not violent. I never would have thought she would die like this.”
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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., talks about the surge in gun violence in Chicago, highlighting the tragic story of Hadiya Pendleton, a city honor student who was shot and killed after performing at President Obama's inauguration.