Two alleged gang members have been arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of Hadiyah Pendleton, the 15-year-old Chicago honor student killed little more than a week after marching in Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.
Police say Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, opened fire on Pendleton and a group of friends last month in retaliation for a shooting last year in which Williams had been injured.
Ward confessed to police that he and Williams had mistaken the group for the rivals in the earlier shooting, according to police.
“The offenders had it all wrong. They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang,” police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference on Monday night, flanked by dozens of detectives who’d worked on the case. “Instead it was a group of upstanding, determined kids who, like Hadiya, were repulsed by the gang lifestyle."
The two men were taken into police custody early on Sunday, a day after Pendleton’s funeral. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the girl’s funeral and met privately with her family.
Pendleton was a popular student and member of her school’s drill team who just years before her death appeared in an anti-gang PSA.
The girl’s death has served as a siren call to action for anti-gun and anti-gun violence activists, and as a come- to-Jesus moment in Chicago, where violence has claimed the lives of hundreds of school-age students in recent years.
On Friday, President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at an event in Chicago, his hometown, to discuss gun violence.
Earlier on Monday Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for stricter gun regulations, longer sentences for people who are caught with illegal weapons and serious conversations within Chicago’s most violence-weary neighborhoods. Emanuel also addressed the culture of guns and violence that has disproportionately consumed the city’s minority youth.
“I’m ecstatic that they found the two guys,” Nathaniel Pendleton, Hadiya’s father, told the Chicago Tribune on Monday night. “I’m thanking God that these two guys are off the streets, so that this doesn’t happen to another innocent person.”
Nathaniel and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Hadiya’s mother, traveled to Washington, D. C., this week to attend Tuesday’s State of the Union address as the guests of the President and First Lady.
The Pendletons will join nearly two dozen other victims of gun violence at the address, all of whome were invited by mostly Democratic lawmakers pushing for federal gun control measures in the wake of the December massacre in Newtown, Conn.
While announcing the charges against Ward and Williams, McCarthy, the police superintendent, said that more synergy between witnesses and the community and the police is needed in order to hold those responsible for bloodshed accountable.
“While we received a lot of tips in this particular case and the community really stepped up and tried to help us, I’m sad to point out that we did not get our target audience to step up,” he said.
Cowley-Pendleton, Hadiya’s heartbroken mother, vowed that her family would serve as an example for the community.
“This family is not the family to let criminals do what they want to do,” she told NBC Chicago. “No, we’re going to do what we have to do.”