Hadiya Pendleton Update: Two men charged in Chicago teen's shooting death mistook her for rival gang member, police say

Kenneth Williams (left), Michael Ward
AP Photo/Chicago Police Department
Kenneth Williams (left), Michael Ward
AP Photo/Chicago Police Department

(CBS/AP) CHICAGO - Two gang members were charged Monday in the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton after confessing that they mistook her and her friends for members of a rival gang. They attacked the group in retaliation for a shooting that injured one of them over the summer, police said.

Hadiya was fatally shot on Jan. 29 in a park about a mile from the Chicago home of President Barack Obama, just days after she performed during his inauguration festivities in Washington.

Michael Ward, 18, and 20-year-old Kenneth Williams were charged Monday with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Both were taken into custody late Saturday while on their way to a strip club, just hours after first lady Michelle Obama and other dignitaries attended Hadiya's funeral.

"Ward confessed and indicated Hadiya was not the intended target. They got it all wrong," McCarthy said.

Hadiya, a popular high school majorette, was with a group of friends who took cover during a rainstorm under a canopy in the park on Jan. 29. Police said a man hopped a fence, ran toward them and opened fire with a handgun before fleeing in a waiting car. Hadiya was struck in the back and died later that day. Two others were injured.

Ward told investigators that he thought he was shooting into the crowd of a rival gang, and that the shooting was meant as retaliation for Williams being shot in the arm in July, McCarthy said. Police said neither Hadiya nor her friends were affiliated with gangs.

McCarthy said Williams, who refused to cooperate with authorities after the July shooting, was driving the getaway car. He added that both men were arrested while on their way to a strip club to celebrate a friend's birthday Saturday night.

Hadiya'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. However,  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 will sit with Michelle Obama during the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Obama is scheduled to return to Chicago three days later to discuss gun violence.

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 combatting gangs.

McCarthy, who is pushing for tougher gun laws that would increase minimum sentences for gun crimes, noted that Ward was arrested in January 2011 on a gun charge but he received probation after pleading guilty to unlawful use of a weapon. If Chicago had laws like those in New York City Ward wouldn't have been on the streets, McCarthy said.

"This has to stop. Gun offenders have to do significant jail time," said McCarthy, who rose through the ranks of New York City's police and is the former police director in Newark, N.J.

McCarthy said the arrests occurred after police figured out that the description of the getaway car matched the description of a vehicle in which Williams was pulled over a day before the shootings.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined McCarthy and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez at an afternoon news conference to announce they would push for tougher gun laws that would increase the minimum sentences and require offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

They said the law now allows offenders to be released after serving no more than half their sentences and sometimes obtain their release after a matter of weeks.

Complete coverage of Hadiya Pendleton on Crimesider