By Elizabeth C.
HER BRIGHT SMILING FACE MAKES IT HARD TO IGNORE the war waging on the South Side of Chicago. In life — and now death — Hadiya Pendleton commands your attention.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘Why Hadiya? Why did it have to be her?'” said Jayla Rufus, 16, a classmate of Pendleton at King Prep High School, one of the city’s elite selective high schools.
“She was an amazing person — always positive,” classmate Bria Carter told the Chicago Tribune. “She was one of those people everyone loved. She was the sweetest thing.”
The high school sophomore had performed at President Obama’s second inauguration in Washington, D.C. just eight days before she was gunned down Tuesday while hanging with friends under a canopy at a city park.
She was a majorette, a volleyball player, a lover of Maroon 5 and and Coldplay who dreamed of attending Northwestern University to study journalism or pharmacology. “She was destined for great things,” her father Nathaniel Pendleton told reporters.
Now she’s Chicago’s 42nd gunshot victim of 2013, a pace that puts the city’s murder rate ahead of last year’s 500 homicides and sent jolts through the city’s leaders and law enforcement officials. While most of the city’s deaths occur in crime-ridden pockets in the city’s South and West sides, neighbors say there’s little crime in the neighborhood where the teenager was shot, located about a mile north of President Obama’s Hyde Park home.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy speculates the park on the 400 block of South Oakenwald Avenue may have been considered ‘territory’ by gang members, and that Hadiya was in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” Police have announced an $11,000 reward for information leading to her killer’s arrest.
Mayor Rahm Emanual choked up repeatedly during a press conference Wednesday. The 15-year-old exemplified “what is best” of Chicago, he said. “You look at her, you look at how she talked about her future. She took her final exams. She had dreams. And this gang-banger, this punk took that away.”
Thursday morning, officials announced that 200 police officers on desk jobs would be reassigned to patrol beats, with their administrative positions to be filled by civilians.
In a cruel irony, the promising student starred in a school video warning kids to stay away from gangs. “This commercial is informational for you and your future children,” she announces. “So many children out there are in gangs and it’s your job as students to say no to gangs and yes to a great future.”
“He took the light of my life,” said Hadiya’s father Nathaniel. To the shooter, he said: “Look at yourself, just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person.”