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Hadiya Pendleton Murder: Killing of girl, 15, who performed at inauguration intensifies gun debate

Hadiya Pendleton AP Photo/Courtesy of Damon Stewart

(CBS/AP) CHICAGO - The shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration earlier this month, is the latest in the ever-increasing homicide toll in the president’s hometown of Chicago, and prompted statements by her family and the president himself.

Chicago police said Pendleton was killed in a park about a mile from Obama’s home in a South Side neighborhood Tuesday afternoon by a gunman who apparently was not aiming at her.

She and about a dozen other teenagers took refuge under a canopy at the park to avoid the rain when a man climbed a fence behind the park and opened fire on the group. The teens scattered, but Pendleton was shot once in the back as she tried to escape.

A teenage boy was shot in the leg and was treated at a children’s hospital. Pendleton died at the hospital less than an hour after the attack, CBS Chicago reported.

Hadiya’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, spoke Wednesday at a Chicago police news conference, which was held in the same park where his daughter died.

“He took the light of my life,” Pendleton said. He then spoke directly to the killer: “Look at yourself, just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person.”

Her godfather, Damon Stewart, told The Associated Press that Hadiya was a bright kid who was killed just as she was “wondering about which lofty goal she wanted to achieve.” Hadiya was a majorette with the King College Prep band.

“She was a very active kid, doing dance, cheerleading, who felt like she could accomplish just about anything, a very good student who had big dreams about what she wanted to be, a doctor, an attorney,” said Stewart, a Chicago police officer and attorney. “She was constantly getting good grades.”

Obama was asked about Hadiya’s death in an interview with Telemundo on Wednesday, which led to a discussion about gun control. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president and the first lady’s “thoughts and prayers are with” the teen’s family, adding: “And as the president has said, we will never be able to eradicate every act of evil in this country, but if we can save any one child’s life, we have an obligation to try when it comes to the scourge of gun violence.”

Police said Hadiya had no arrest record and there was no indication she was a member of a gang or was the gunman’s target. In fact, McCarthy said there are no indications that anyone in the group was gang-affiliated. Police suspect that the gunman may be a member of a gang that considers the park its turf and that he mistook somebody in the group as someone from an encroaching rival gang.

McCarthy vowed to put a police officer at the park “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year” if that is what it takes to show the gang that the park belongs to no one but the community.

Pendleton’s death marks the city’s 42nd slaying in Chicago’s bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws.

More on CrimesiderJan. 30, 2013 - Hadiya Pendleton Murder: Teen girl who performed at President Obama's inauguration fatally shot at Chicago park, report says

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