An $11,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the person who shot a 15-year-old honor student Tuesday in a Chicago park. Meanwhile, the girl’s parents, police and city leaders called for the community to help police identify the person responsible for the death of Hadiya Pendleton.
Last week, the high school majorette marched in the Washington, D.C. for the inaugural parade of President Barack Obama. Tuesday as she hung out with friends in a park after school, she was shot in the back, police said.
“They took the light of my life,” Nathaniel Pendleton, Hadiya’s father said during a Wednesday news conference as he fought back the tears and embraced his younger son. “This guy, whoever he was, the gunman, man, you took the light of my life…Just look at yourself and just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a non-violent person.”
Hadiya, a sophomore at King College Preparatory School, was with friends in Harsh Park a few blocks from the school Tuesday afternoon when a gunman came over the fence and started shooting, police said.
Two other friends in the group also were wounded, a police spokesman told BlackAmericaweb.com. Hadiya and a wounded male were taken to a nearby hospital.
The death has sparked outrage in a city that has seen 42 homicides in the first month of the year.
Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina’s Catholic Church said the church is putting up $5,000 of the reward money and called it “bounty” on the head of the killer.
“This is Sandy Hook. This is Connecticut. This is Newtown right here,” Pfleger said referring to the mass killing of students and teachers at a school earlier this month by a lone gunman.
Pfleger wants to see killers jailed and residents more involved in making their communities safer.
“We love those who want to turn around. But if you want to shoot, if you want to kill, your but needs to be in jail,” Pfleger said during the press conference.
Part of the responsibility for curbing violence in Chicago rests with the residents, Pfleger said. “The police come in when something happens. When do we stand up and make them (criminals) afraid to do something on our block?”
Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp, in an interview with Black Americaweb.com, also said residents must step up and do their part in helping stem that city’s escalating rate of gun violence and homicides.
“We have to put a stake in the ground and say we are going to create a world where our kids can go out in the park after school, and we have to feel more comfortable calling the police when something is happening,” Zopp said. If the community can’t do this, “we are letting our children down,” she said.
Zopp, who also is a member of the Chicago School Board, said there are no simple answers to the problems that give rise to violence such as Hadiya’s shooting death the death.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also talked about Hadiya’s death during a separate Wednesday press conference.
“If anybody has any information, you are not a snitch, you’re a citizen,” the mayor said according to an article published in the Chicago Tribune. “You’re a good citizen in good standing if you help.”
The 42 deaths so far this year is the highest monthly total since 2002 according to police statistics. Those numbers come, in spite of the fact that gun stores are banned in the city.
“There is a ban in Chicago, but just across the street in neighboring suburbs, there are stores where you can go in and buy large numbers of weapons. You could sell them out of the trunk of the car,” says the Rev. Ira Acree, an anti-violence activist.
Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church on the west side, has been at the graveside with church members as they have buried their dead – many of them young and struck down by bullets or other weapons.
“In 2003, one of our members, 15-year-old Maurice Brown Jr., was gunned down, and to this day, they have not found his killer,” Acree told BlackAmericaweb.com. “He was a promising football player, a scholar. Colleges were already looking at him. He lost his life.”
The solution to the problem will take time, Acree said, pointing to high poverty, the deterioration of the family, the city’s illegal drug economy and unemployment as root causes.
Zopp said the unemployment rate for teens in Chicago is more than 70 percent and that African American and urban teens are disproportionately represented in those numbers. If the teens are not employed, they are more likely to get in trouble and “some will turn to illegal means to get money,” she said.
The Chicago Urban League has developed several programs to help young people get back on track, she said. The organization has also arranged forums where young people talk with lawmakers and policy makers to educate them on the needs of youths, Zopp said.
Richard Whooten, a Chicago area police officer who has served in the military, is taking the community education approach to addressing the problem.
“I’m training citizens in neighborhood watch groups how to be more aware,” Wooten told BlackAmericweb.com. He started his free training to community residents in October and said he has trained 15 to 20 people on the Southside.
“We have to save our communities,” Whooten said.