CHICAGO—A 15-year-old girl who performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration last week was shot dead in Chicago by a gunman who opened fire on a group of kids hanging out in a park, police said Wednesday.
“It is believed that the offender mistook the group for gang members and fired at them,” Chicago police office Laura Kubiak told AFP.
Hadiya Pendleton — described by a relative as a “walking angel” — was sheltering from the rain under a canopy with about 10 or 12 other teenagers Tuesday when the gunman leaped over a fence, opened fire and then jumped into a getaway car at 2:30 pm.
Her friends scrambled in fear and did not stay to help Pendleton or the two boys were were also injured, Kubiak said.
“As usual, the bad guy aims, but he never hits the other bad guy,” her godfather, Chicago police officer Damon Stewart, lamented to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I changed her diapers, I played with her growing up. My heart is broken.”
The park where Pendleton was shot is about a mile away from Obama’s South Side home.
Chicago is struggling to control an epidemic of gang violence, which helped push the city’s murder rate up 16 percent to 506 people in 2012. The city has already logged more than 40 murders so far this year.
The shooting also comes as the nation is embroiled in a debate over gun violence in the wake of the massacre of 20 young children and six staff members at a Connecticut elementary school.
The White House said Wednesday that Obama — who has often spoken of the need to address the less spectacular but far more deadly gun violence on the streets of Chicago and other cities — is praying for Pendleton’s family.
“It’s a terrible tragedy any time a young person is struck down with so much of their life ahead of them, and we see it far too often,” spokesman Jay Carney said.
“And as the president has said, we will never be able to eradicate every act of evil in this country, but we — but if we can save any one child’s life, we have an obligation to try when it comes to this scourge of gun violence.”
Pendleton was a majorette in the King College Prep school band, which brought her to Washington for the inauguration. She was hanging out with other members of the volleyball team when she was shot in the back.
“She was an honor student all her life,” cousin Shatira Wilks told the Sun-Times. “Honestly, she was a walking angel. She never once gave her mom any problems ever.”