Talented Teen Killed In Chicago Gun Violence

Hadiya Pendleton was a sophomore at King College Prep High School in Chicago. The 15-year-old traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to perform with the school's marching band at inaugural events. This week, she was shot to death by a man who inexplicably fired at her and a group of friends.

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Police in Chicago say it's likely a gang turf battle left a 15-year-old girl dead just a week after she performed at President Obama's inauguration. Hadiya Pendleton was shot while she talked with friends in a park. Her death has now become part of the bloodiest January in more than a decade in the president's own home town. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: She was an honor roll student, a volleyball player, and a sophomore, a majorette with the King College Prep Marching Band. It was final exam day for Hadiya Pendleton. After classes ended, she and her friends, including members of her volleyball team, gathered in a park about a mile from the president's Chicago home. They were standing under a canopy to escape the rain when a man opened fire on the group.

NATHANIEL PENDLETON: They took the light of my life. This guy, the gunman, man, you took the light of my life.

CORLEY: Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, stood with his arms around his 10-year-old son at a press conference yesterday afternoon. He said his daughter, who was shot once in the back, was destined for great things. Two other students were wounded, one treated and released, and the other hospitalized. Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said there was no indication that anyone in the group was affiliated with a gang or was a target.

GARRY MCCARTHY: But what we believed happened is that this is some sort of territory that some gang might call their own.

CORLEY: And McCarthy says they may have mistakenly thought the school kids were a rival gang.

MCCARTHY: And fired into the crowd, killing Hadiya.

CORLEY: The neighborhood where the shooting occurred is quiet and close-knit. Residents walked the streets singing Christmas carols during the holidays. Outside the school, senior Selena Spencer(ph) says Pendleton's death was devastating.

SELENA SPENCER: I would see her every day in my - getting prepared for gym class in the locker room, and she was just such a sweet girl. She always was saying something either funny or nice or - you know, she was sweet.

CORLEY: Over the past year, gun violence in Chicago has been in the national spotlight. There were 506 murders last year, most involving gunplay. With Pendleton's death, homicides in Chicago climbed to 42 in January, the highest it's been for the month in a decade.

MICHAEL PFLEGER: This is Sandy Hook, this is Connecticut, this is Newtown right here. And we have to be just as outraged.

CORLEY: And outraged, said Chicago activist and Catholic priest Michael Pfleger, as the nation became in the aftermath of last month's shooting rampage in Connecticut. President Obama and other Democrats have asked Congress to pass a large package of gun restrictions as a result of recent shootings. As the Congressional hearing on gun violence got underway, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois also talked about the death of the Chicago teenager and gun violence in the city.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: We are awash in guns. The confiscation of guns per capita in Chicago is six times the number of New York City. We have guns everywhere, and some believe the solution to this is more guns. I disagree.

CORLEY: The Chicago police superintendent has vowed around-the-clock patrols at the park where Hadiya Pendleton was shot to let gangs know they don't own it. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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