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Mourners pay last respects to slain Chicago teen

By La Risa Lynch Contributing Writer | Last updated: Feb 15, 2013 - 11:04:21 AM

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Danyia Bell, left 16, and Artureana Terrell, 16, react as they read a program for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton outside the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church after the funeral service of Saturday, Feb. 9, in Chicago. Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries including first lady Michelle Obama packed the funeral service for the Chicago teen whose killing catapulted her into the nation’s debate over gun violence. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

First lady Michelle Obama attends Hadiya Pendleton’s funeral

CHICAGO ( - Hundreds lined outside a south side church Saturday to say one last goodbye to a teen gunned down a week after marching in President Obama’s inauguration last month.

First lady Michelle Obama and several other dignitaries packed the Greater Harvest Baptist Church as friends and family remembered 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton as a bright and energetic young woman with a smile that could light up a room. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also attended the service.

Hadiya Pendleton

Miracle Johnson, 15, attended M.L. King College Prep High School with Pendleton and counted her as a friend. Johnson remembers the teen as “flamboyant and always smiling.”

“She was like the joy of everybody’s day. Say that you could be down, she would lighten up the whole day,” recalled Johnson, who stood in the line outside as it inched closer to the church entrance. Security was tight for the first lady’s presence at the ceremony.

Rocenetta Jacobs, one of Hadiya’s former teachers also had kind words describing the teen as vibrant and intelligent. Jacobs remembers Pendleton as saying she wanted to do big things with her life.

“I remember her saying that she wanted to be famous one day, but not in this way,” Jacobs said.

The honor roll student was killed when an unidentified gunman fired shots into a group of teens seeking shelter from the rain in a park. Two other teens were wounded in the shooting that occurred less than a mile from President Obama’s home. A $40,000 reward has been offered in the case.

But a break in the case came a day after Pendleton’s funeral. At Final Call press time, police were questioning two male persons of interest, one 18 and the other 20-years-old, in connection with the case. While news reports indicated that the two suspects were taken into custody either late Saturday or early Sunday, a police spokesperson would not confirm those reports.

Police contend the shooting was one of mistaken identity where the gunman fired upon rival gang members. Police said neither Pendleton nor any of the students in the park that day were involved with gangs.

Pendleton’s death has become a symbol of Chicago’s escalating gun violence. Activists have called on President Obama to address violence in his hometown, and President Obama seems to have heeded that call. According to media reports, he will come to Chicago to specifically address rising violence. The month of January saw 43 homicides, according to police statistics.

Nicole Jackson, 17, who also attended high school with Pendleton said her friend’s death was “difficult” because it was too close to home. She hopes Pendleton’s death serves as a “wake up call.”

“I want to see it stop. I am tired of seeing people I know killed over senseless stuff, especially innocent people,” Jackson said.

“I hope that it changes something because it is ridiculous. Chicago is turning into a death city,” Miracle Johnson added.

Violence has gripped Chicago so tightly, that many high-schoolers refer to the city as “Chiraq” drawing parallels to a war zone.

Jacobs called the city’s increasing gun violence “ridiculous.”

“I do not want to bury my students,” she said. “Words cannot express the overwhelming grief that I feel right now. I should see my students on television doing magnificent things, not because they’re dead.”

Amina Jackson, a mentor with the Blackstar Project, an education advocacy group, came to the service to show support for the family. But her organization works with students impacted by gun violence.

While she said gun violence is “out of control,” she pointed to ignorance, poor values and poor parental control for youth violence. She said there needs to be more places where kids can go to keep them off the streets.

“This was a person that was doing something with their life,” Amina Jackson said. “[She wasn’t] out on the corner selling drugs and doing stuff like that. [She was] actually an honor student, went to the inauguration and doing something in society. And for something like this to happen... it’s a tragedy.”

Some of Pendleton’s classmates, friends and school staff could not enter the church when it reached capacity shortly before the funeral service started. A group of mourners remained outside the church. Many cried as frustration grew when they watched politician after politician waved in. Some contend the first lady’s visit distracted from the event’s purpose.

“Half the people in there didn’t know Hadiya,” said 16-year-old Amari Malone through tears. She went to grammar school with Pendleton. “She was one of my friends, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her.”

“The whole attention that the funeral has drawn with the politicians it almost seems a little out of place that they are there and the students who are grieving are on the outside of this,” said Cheri Monik, who taught Pendleton at high school.

Monik who called Pendleton very inquisitive, said having her as a student was a gift.

“That’s what I think is holding me together is that I did have that opportunity to share that time with her. As I look back that smile truly lit up the world,” she said.

Related news:

Surviving the streets: Views, solutions, experience and young voices (FCN, 02-06-2013)

Loss of promising Black teen renews questions about continued problems of urban violence (FCN, 02-05-2013)

Honoring Hadiya ( Editorial, 02-05-2013)