Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student in Chicago was one of the good ones. She was on her school’s drill team, studied hard and friends say she always had an easy smile for anyone who needed one. As part of her school’s marching band, Pendleton even got the chance to perform during President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade in Washington a little more than a week ago.
But after classes ended on Tuesday afternoon Pendleton’s seemingly limitless light was dimmed in a manner far too frequent in Chicago: in a hail of gunfire.
Police say about 2:20 p.m., as rain began to pour, a gunman opened fire on Pendleton and a group of friends who’d taken cover in a park a few blocks from her school. Pendleton was struck and killed. Another teen, a 16-year-old boy, was wounded.
According to local news reports neighbors reported hearing as many as six shots, and that the gunfire sent the group of about 10 or so scattering. In the aftermath all but Pendleton, the wounded boy and a few who’d stayed behind to help them remained. The boy remained in serious condition at a nearby hospital, according to news reports. And the police have not made any arrests.
Pendleton now joins the tragically long list of school age students to die as a result of gun violence in Chicago, a city whose stubbornly high murder and gun violence rates have drawn an increasingly bright spotlight as Washington and Main Street grapple over curbing gun violence in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.
With her death the drumbeat of gunfire continues in Chicago. The city has clocked 42 killings in January, making it the deadliest January in Chicago in more than 10 years. In addition to Pendleton’s killing on Tuesday, a 27-year-old was fatally shot and eight others were injured in separate shootings.
Police say that Pendleton was not involved in any gangs, but that a few of those she was with in the park on Tuesday were. Witnesses, including those at the scene of the shooting, are not cooperating with the police, according to reports.
“Even with the high level of violence that we have, to hear a story like this, it just angers you even more,” said Norman Livingston Kerr, a youth advocate and outreach director for UCAN in Chicago, a group that works to empower youth traumatized by violence. “The good ones are caught up in it because the ones involved in the gangs are among everybody. It’s not like the ones who are gang members are only involved in negative activity, hanging by themselves.”
One neighbor told MSNBC.com that the neighborhood where the shooting occured is a quiet one, and that while students from nearby King College Prep High School, where Pendleton was a student, often gather in the park after classes, it’s usually without drama or incident.
“It’s such a horrifying thing,” said Delano Obanion, who lives next door to the park and has a teenage grandson who was a classmate of Pendleton’s. “This neighborhood is so quiet it’s unbelievable. To have this happen shakes me to the core.”
Obanion said while trouble in the “upper middle class” neighborhood is rare, his grandson was robbed at gunpoint over the summer while on his way to his grandparents’ home from summer programs over at King College Prep. They put a gun to his head and robbed the boy of his sneakers, cell phone and jacket.
Reflecting on the decades-long rash of “senseless violence,” Obanion said the government needs to step in.
“Somehow the government needs to just jump into it and do something,” he said. “None of this makes any sense. But it needs to be a long term thing.”
A day after Pendleton was killed in that little park in Chicago, the Senate Judiciary Committee was holding hearings on gun violence. Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a point-blank gun shot to the head during a mass shooting two years ago, urged Congress to take action.
“Violence is a big problem,” she told the committee Wednesday. “Too many children are dying. Too many children.”
“We must do something,” she added. “It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
About noon during the hearings on Wednesday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin mentioned Pendleton by name, calling her marching the inaugural parade “the highlight of her young life.”
“Just a matter of days after the happiest day of her life, she’s gone,” said Durbin, who described Chicago as being “awash in guns.”
“The confiscation of guns per capita in Chicago is six times the number in New York City,” said Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois. “We have guns everywhere and some believe the solution to this is more guns. I disagree. When you take a look at where these guns come from, 45 percent plus are sold in the surrounding towns around Chicago, not in the city.”
Hours after Pendleton’s death, a gaggle of young people and Pendleton’s principal gathered at the hospital where the young woman was taken after the shooting, according to the Chicago Tribune. The students hugged and cried and mourned the loss of one of their own. Pendleton’s parents were there as well and their daughters’ classmates did what they could to console her.
“She was awesome,” a friend of Pendleton’s told the Tribune outside of the hospital’s ER.
The Rev. Jerald January, pastor of the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago, was shaken and angry over Pendleton’s killing, calling gun violence and its perpetrators “sick.”
“It’s a sickness. It’s a spirit,” said January, whose younger brother, 16, was shot and killed in Detroit about 20 years ago. “And it saddens me what her family will be going through. I hate to put it this way but, there will be nothing really special attached to this. People will cry for a few days, some will go to her funeral, but there will be no recoil from this because it happens so often.”
“For the city of Chicago, for African American parents, for school teachers, students and principals, it happens every day,” January continued. “And there’s no reason for it at all outside of insanity.”