Monday, February 11, 2013

Hadiya's mom: State of the Union will be 'bittersweet'

Scott Olson / Getty Images
Cleopatra Cowley, arriving with her son Nathaniel for the wake of her 15-year-old daughter Hadiya Pendleton.

It's an invitation she wishes she had no reason to accept.

The mother of Chicago gun-violence victim Hadiya Pendleton will be in the audience for Tuesday night's State of the Union address in Washington, D.C. — and she is expecting a flood of mixed emotions.

"It's bittersweet," Cleopatra Cowley said after she and her husband landed in Washington on Monday evening. “Because it’s as a result of losing my daughter, but it’s also exciting to have an opportunity like this.”

Her presence in the House of Representatives chamber as President Obama delivers his annual address to the country will be a poignant reminder of the toll of gun violence in America.

Cowley — who was invited as a guest of the first lady, according to White House aides — said she will be listening to the speech with an open mind.

“I really just want to hear what he has to say,” she said. “Then I can formulate my opinion.”

Cowley’s 15-year-old daughter was shot dead two weeks ago while hanging out with friends in a park near school, just days after she returned from Washington, where her marching band competed for a chance to be in President Obama's inauguration parade.

Police believe Hadiya was the innocent victim of a gang member who mistakenly thought the teens were rivals on his turf.

The majorette quickly became a figure in the national debate over guns and a symbol of Chicago's stubborn murder rate. Chicago police announced Monday night that were charging two young men with murder in connection with the shooting.

The First Lady was among hundreds at her funeral Saturday, which was attended by hundreds of people, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“That was amazing,” Cowley said.

“My daughter really wanted to perform directly in front of the president and first lady and didn’t have the opportunity. Having the first lady at her homegoing was like Hadiya having an opportunity to perform because of all the friends and family who gave feedback about her.”

She said she also appreciated Michelle Obama’s low-profile at the funeral.

“She didn’t have a desire to have it be about her. She wanted to attend as a mom,” Cowley said.

Before the State of the Union, Cowley and her husband, Nate Pendleton, will attend a hearing on gun safety called by Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, who spoke about Hadiya during an earlier hearing the day after her death.


‘Flashpoint: Guns in America’: An NBC News special report

How to watch the State of the Union with NBC News

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