A week after performing at President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities in Washington, D.C., a 15-year-old high sophomore was gunned down not far from the president’s Chicago home.
The murder of Hadiya Pendleton is drawing national attention — including prayers from the president and First Lady Michelle Obama. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the teen’s killer “a punk” who robbed the girl’s family and Chicago.
Hadiya is one of 42 people slain in Chicago already this year. Six of the victims were under 18.
Hadiya was a sophomore at King College Prep — and had just finished final exams. She was shot and killed at a park near her school Tuesday — just weeks before she was to go on a European trip.
“She always wanted to study abroad,” said her mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton. “I was trying to let her see more.”
Hadiya and another student at King, a selective-enrollment school at 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., were hit by the gunshots after getting out of school at 1 p.m. Tuesday when final exams ended, authorities and other students said.
She and at least one other student — identified by friends as Lawrence Sellers, 17 — were with a group of about a dozen teens at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park in the 4500 block of South Oakenwald Avenue at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, police said.
Police said the group was under a park canopy, trying to stay out of the rain, when a shooter jumped a fence, ran toward them and opened fire. The group scrambled, police said.
After the two King students were hit, the shooter jumped into a waiting car and sped away, police said.
Both victims were taken to Comer Children’s Hospital, Chicago Fire Department officials said. Hadiya was shot in the back and later died, according to police and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. Sellers was shot in the leg and is in serious condition, police said.
At Hadiya’s home Wednesday, relatives described the girl as a loving daughter and sister with a huge heart who always helped others.
She loved to read and loved her Kindle, her mom said.
“The books had to be big,” she said, recalling that her daughter read the “Twilight” series in two days.
“She was ‘Team Edward’ all the way,” her aunt, Kimiko Petti said, referring to a main character in the book/movie franchise.
Hadiya loved to write and thought she might one day become a journalist, her mom said.
Pettis added that her niece particularly enjoyed her Latin class at school.
Hadiya played volleyball, basketball and was a cheerleader, but she really loved being a majorette and worked hard at it, Pettis said.
She enjoyed studying new things like dancing, and she loved the makeup and pretty outfits, her aunt said.
She went to New Orleans last year with the majorettes for Mardi Gras and was getting ready for a 10-day trip to London, Dublin and Paris with classmates in March, her mother said.
As Cowley-Pendleton, Hadiya’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, and other family members stood in the family home, near a fridge adorned with loads of Hadiya’s perfect test scores, her mother said she was heartened by the parents who had come up to her and thanked her for Hadiya’s positive effect on their children.
Meanwhile, finals scheduled for Wednesday at King College Prep were canceled for the day, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman said. CPS also offered counselors for students and parents.
Outside King Prep Wednesday morning, students walked to class, many wearing red as a tribute to Hadiya.
It was her favorite color, said Basha Adams, 15, a fellow sophomore who said she had been friends with the student since last year.
“She was that person that would always have a smile on her face,” Basha said, her cheeks stained with tears. “She would be the light that would make everything seem clear and bright.”
The two had traveled to Washington, D.C., for Obama’s inauguration a week ago, and Adams recalled the fun they had on the trip. One of their stops was to the Smithsonian Museum.
“She acted like an airplane as we looked at Bessie Coleman’s biography,” Basha said of the first African-American female pilot.
Hadiya was a member of the school’s majorettes dance troupe, and Basha played clarinet, she recalled.
Basha said one of her lasting memories of Hadiya will be the teen dancing in front of her while she played in the nation’s capital.
“That’s something I will always cherish,” she said. “She was the sweetest person you could ever meet. I’m hanging in there, but it’s going to be a tough day.”
Police said Hadiya was “by all indications the female victim was an unintended target.” But the statement said “preliminary information indicates that most of the members of the group were gang members.”
Desiree Sanders, who lives near the park, said at the scene on Tuesday that she heard six gunshots and then saw about 10 people running away from the park. Two of them collapsed, and Sanders called police.
“They were in shock,” Sanders said of those who stayed at the scene Tuesday.
Roxanne Hubbard, who has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years, said she has never heard of a shooting on her block, which is about a mile away from Obama’s home on Greenwood Avenue.
“President Obama’s house is like three blocks from here,” she said, “so this is not typical.”
Kendall Warton, a sophomore, said Hadiya had a lot of friends.
“She was a very loving and outgoing person,” Warton said. “She really had an open mind and was free-spirited.”
Warton described Sellers as the “class clown.”
Janai Bates, 17, said she didn’t know of anyone who has “any problems” with either one of the victims.
“Lawrence and Hadiya aren’t the type of people to get in a conflict with anybody,” Bates said. “Everybody loved them, they joked with everybody, they give out that warmth.”
In the cold rain Wednesday morning, Sean Hill pulled his daughter close and held her as she sobbed outside the school. He gave her a final hug before she went inside.
Hill said his daughter, also a sophomore, had known Hadiya since they were children.
Hill said he told his daughter to keep the faith.
“Pray for the family and the friends to comfort each other,” said Hill, 33, a radiography student. “In this time, God is on your side. We have some terrible people in this world, doing unthinkable acts.”
Hill said his “heart just hit the floor” when he found out yesterday that Hadiya had been killed, a parent’s worst nightmare.
“Every day they walk out your door, you’re concerned,” he said. “They’re just trying to be kids. But our kids can’t be kids anymore. It’s sickening.”
LaTosha Fleming said her daughter, Chynna, cried all night Tuesday.
“It’s difficult to comfort her,” Fleming, 45, a paralegal, said outside the school. “I just hugged her and told her it would be OK.”
Fleming’s family had recently moved from Naperville and this was her daughter’s first year at the school, she said, but that she is already considering moving them again.
“She knows not to roam this neighborhood,” Fleming said.
Chanel Olivas, 16, said she found out about Hadiya’s death on Instagram Tuesday.
She was a person who would lift up anyone who had a bad day, Olivas said, and she was very popular.
“You always wanted to be around her,” Olivas said. “She got along with everybody.”
No one was in custody for the shooting, police said.
Chicago Public Schools officials declined comment.
After dropping his child off at school Wednesday, Willy Curtis said he’s trying to remind his children to be very careful.
“You don’t know when it’s going to happen or where it’s going to happen,” he said. “It can happen under a tree.”