CHICAGO (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama met privately with the family of a 15-year-old girl being laid to rest Saturday a week and a half after her fatal shooting brought national attention to Chicago’s staggering gun violence.
Obama was among the dignitaries attending the service for Hadiya Pendleton at a South Side church that was filled to capacity with hundreds of mourners. Pendleton was a band majorette who was shot and killed just a few days after performing for events surrounding President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Police say Pendleton was an innocent victim in a gang-related shooting.
The first lady, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, met in an upstairs room at the church with Pendleton’s immediate family. Other majorettes, wearing their black and gold team jackets, also were in the room, as was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
In addition to the first lady, some of Illinois’ most recognizable politicians and clergy. But Pendleton’s family says her Saturday funeral service won’t be about politics — it will be about remembering a girl who loved to dance, who once appeared in an anti-gang video and who died just days after performing at one of President Barack Obama’s inauguration events.
“Everything is about Hadiya,” said Shatira Wilks, one of Pendleton’s cousins and a family spokeswoman.
None of the dignitaries was slated to speak during the service. The teen’s pastor and brother will talk, and the musical group Pendleton was a member of will perform.
As a line of hundreds stretched outside the church, mourners inside filed past Pendleton’s open casket, which was partially covered with flowers. A woman who walked in with the girl’s family wailed loudly while organ and piano music played.
Pendleton was shot and killed while she talked with friends after school at a park not far from the Obamas’ home in the Kenwood neighborhood. Police have said the Jan. 29 shooting appears to be a case of mistaken identity involving gang members who believed the park was their territory. Police say Pendleton was an innocent victim. No charges have been filed.
Pendleton’s death brought new attention to Chicago’s homicide rate and the national debate over gun violence. Pendleton’s slaying came in a January that was the city’s deadliest in a decade. In 2012, Chicago recorded 506 homicides.
Inside the church Saturday, photos from the honor student’s life were projected on a screen at the front of the sanctuary. One shows her as a newborn swaddled in a pink bassinet. In others, she is smiling alongside family and friends.
The glossy, eight-page funeral program included photos of Pendleton and details about her life, including her favorite foods — cheeseburgers, fig cookies, Chinese and ice cream — and the numerous school organizations she was involved in. It also said she wanted to major in pharmacology and journalism in college.
Those attending Saturday’s service included Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett — all of whom are from Chicago.
Quinn mentioned Pendleton’s death in his State of the State address earlier this week as he called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“There are no words in the English language . or any language . to relieve the pain of parents who lose a child,” said Quinn, who said he spoke with Pendleton’s family two days before his speech.