CHICAGO (AP) — A 15-year-old girl who had performed in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities is the latest face on the ever-increasing homicide toll in the president's hometown, killed in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her.
Chicago police said Hadiya Pendleton was in a park about a mile from Obama's home in a South Side neighborhood Tuesday afternoon when a man opened fire on the group. Hadiya was shot in the back as she tried to escape.
The city's 42nd slaying is part of Chicago's bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws.
Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, spoke Wednesday at a Chicago police news conference, which was held in the same park where his daughter died.
"He took the light of my life," Pendleton said. He then spoke directly to the killer: "Look at yourself, just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person." Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy consoled him, the girl's mother and 10-year-old brother.
Hadiya was a bright kid who was killed just as she was "wondering about which lofty goal she wanted to achieve," her godfather, Damon Stewart, told The Associated Press. Hadiya had been a majorette with the King College Prep band.
"She was a very active kid, doing dance, cheerleading, who felt like she could accomplish just about anything, a very good student who had big dreams about what she wanted to be, a doctor, an attorney," said Stewart, a Chicago police officer and attorney. "She was constantly getting good grades."
Obama was asked about Hadiya's death in an interview with Telemundo, which led to a discussion about gun control. Also Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the president and the first lady's "thoughts and prayers are with" the teen's family, adding: "And as the president has said, we will never be able to eradicate every act of evil in this country, but if we can save any one child's life, we have an obligation to try when it comes to the scourge of gun violence."