CHICAGO – Two Chicago gang members charged Monday in the death of a 15-year-old honor student mistook her and her friends for members of a rival gang and attacked the group in retaliation for a shooting that injured one of the men over the summer, according to police.
Hadiya Pendleton died after being shot in a park near the Chicago home of President Obama on Jan. 29, just days after she performed during his inauguration festivities in Washington.
Her death was among dozens of homicides in Chicago last month, but her background and ties to Obama thrust her death into the national headlines and helped put Chicago at the center of a national debate over gun control.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said first-degree murder charges were filed against Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20.
Pendleton, a popular high school majorette, was with a group of friends who took cover during a rainstorm under a canopy in a park on the city’s South Side. Police said a man hopped a fence, ran toward them and opened fire with a handgun before fleeing in a waiting car. Pendleton was struck in the back and died later that day. Two others were injured.
McCarthy said the shooting was meant as retaliation for Williams being shot in the arm by a rival gang in July, though neither Pendleton nor her friends were affiliated with gangs.
Ward confessed and indicated Hadiya was not the intended target. They got it all wrong, McCarthy said.
Ward told investigators he was the gunman, and Williams, who refused to cooperate with authorities after the July shooting, was driving the getaway car, McCarthy said.
He added that both men were arrested late Saturday – the same day first lady Michelle Obama and other dignitaries attended Pendleton’s funeral. The men also are charged with two counts of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm.
Pendleton’s death was one of more than 40 homicides in Chicago in January, a total that made it the deadliest January in the city in more than a decade. But her murder attracted national attention and helped put Chicago at the center of a national debate over gun control.
Not only did the first lady attend the teen’s funeral, but the girl’s parents were set to sit with Michelle Obama during the president’s State of the Union address today.
Homicides in Chicago topped 500 last year for the first time since 2008, stoking residents’ concerns about gun violence and leading the police department to put more officers on the street and to focus more on gangs.