At funeral in Chicago, nor­mal­ity of gun deaths grieved

First lady at­tends ser­vice for teen, who per­formed at in­au­gu­ra­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - OLITICS & THE NATION - BY PHILIP RUCKER ruck­erp@wash­post.com

chicago — She didn’t say any­thing, but she didn’t have to.

First lady Michelle Obama, sim­ply by fil­ing into a church pew on Chicago’s South Side on Satur­day and mourn­ing the killing of a smil­ing 15-year-old girl she had never met, spot­lighted the ev­ery­day gun and gang vi­o­lence plagu­ing the na­tion’s cities.

“Geno­cide,” one eu­lo­gist called it, lament­ing that guns had “be­come part of our wardrobe.” An­other ex­horted the politi­cians in the pews, “Don’t give us lip ser­vice.”

The Rev. Michael Pfleger vowed, “We must be­come the in­ter­rupters of funeral pro­ces­sions seek­ing to bury our fu­ture.”

Since be­ing gunned down in Chicago a week af­ter per­form­ing with the King Col­lege Prep high school’s ma­jorette team dur­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s sec­ond in­au­gu­ral fes­tiv­i­ties, Hadiya Pendle­ton has be­come a na­tional sym­bol for the in­no­cence lost to sense­less shoot­ings.

Pendle­ton’s killing res­onated far be­yond the South Side to the White House, where the Oba­mas drew par­al­lels be­tween Pendle­ton and their own daugh­ters.

The first lady, who met pri­vately with Pendle­ton’s fam­ily and about 30 of her class­mates, did not speak at the funeral, which lasted four hours. But her ap­pear­ance car­ried heavy po­lit­i­cal over­tones, coming as the pres­i­dent is pres­sur­ing Congress to en­act tougher gun laws.

Obama sat qui­etly as Pendle­ton was re­mem­bered as an hon­ors stu­dent and ma­jorette who loved Fig New­tons and lip gloss and as­pired to ma­jor in phar­ma­col­ogy or jour­nal­ism in col­lege. She wanted to go to Har­vard.

One af­ter an­other, Pendle­ton’s teary-eyed class­mates re­called their friend’s con­ta­gious smile and soft, baby voice. “She tried to tell a scary story, but no one could take her se­ri­ously,” one said.

Dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion, an­other class­mate re­called, Pendle­ton wan­dered around the na­tion’s cap­i­tal so much that she be­gan sweat­ing even in the day’s chilly weather.

A week later, a gun­man opened fire on Pendle­ton and about a dozen other teenagers while they were hang­ing out at a park af­ter school. Po­lice said Pendle­ton was an in­no­cent vic­tim likely caught in the cross­fire of a gang fight.

For the Oba­mas, Pendle­ton’s death on Jan. 29 hit home. She went to school only a mile from the Obama fam­ily home. The Oba­mas thought about their daugh­ters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, said Va­lerie Jar­rett, a se­nior White House ad­viser and close friend of the Oba­mas.

“It’s per­sonal for us,” Jar­rett, who ac­com­pa­nied Michelle Obama to the funeral, said in an in­ter­view. “The first lady and I grew up in Chicago. It could have been our daugh­ters. So, as res­i­dents of Chicago, res­i­dents of the South Side, our heart just goes out to her fam­ily. . . . We may not have known her, but she’s a part of our fam­ily, too.”

David Ax­el­rod, a long­time ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Obama and also a Chicagoan, said in an in­ter­view that Pendle­ton’s death was “a very sober­ing thing” to the pres­i­dent, who has grap­pled with this city’s gun vi­o­lence epi­demic since he rep­re­sented a South Side district in the Illi­nois State Se­nate.

“She put a mem­o­rable, rec­og­niz­able face on what is a grim, stub­born, dis­may­ing prob­lem,” Ax­el­rod said of Pendle­ton.

Pres­i­dent Obama did not travel here with his wife, but the back of a glossy funeral pro­gram in­cluded a hand­writ­ten note from him to Pendle­ton’s par­ents, Nathaniel An­thony Pendle­ton and Cleopa­tra Cow­ley-Pendle­ton.

“Michelle and I just wanted you to know how heartbroken we are to have heard about Hadiya’s pass­ing,” he wrote. “We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest as­sured that we are pray­ing for you, and that we will con­tinue to work as hard as we can to end this sense­less vi­o­lence. God Bless, Barack Obama.”

In Washington, Obama is urg­ing pas­sage of uni­ver­sal back­ground checks for all gun buy­ers and bans on as­sault weapons and high-ca­pac­ity am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines. He was spurred to ac­tion by the Dec. 14 mas­sacre at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Conn., where a gun­man killed 20 chil­dren and six adults.

But many more peo­ple are killed on street cor­ners in cities like Chicago and Philadel­phia, some­thing Obama of­ten notes in his speeches about gun vi­o­lence.

“There have been so many tragic deaths around the coun­try and of­ten­times the in­di­vid­ual deaths don’t get the at­ten­tion that maybe an Aurora or a New­town gets, but the im­pact it has on the fam­ily is just as dev­as­tat­ing,” Jar­rett said.

Pendle­ton was among more than 40 peo­ple who were killed in Chicago last month alone, mak­ing it the dead­li­est Jan­uary here in a decade.

“All those lives that were ig- nored, she speaks for,” Da­mon Ste­wart, Pendle­ton’s god­fa­ther, said in his eu­logy. “She’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of peo­ple across the na­tion who lost their lives.”

Steve Crozier, 44, a Pendle­ton fam­ily friend, said in an in­ter­view that elected of­fi­cials should be do­ing more to stop the killings.

“There’s got to be a war against th­ese guns on our streets,” Crozier said. “Peo­ple say the coun­try is too steeped in guns, but the coun­try was steeped in slav­ery, too. You’ve got to have the same com­mit­ment to get­ting th­ese guns off the streets.”

Although Michelle Obama did not take the pul­pit, she re­peat­edly was ref­er­enced by oth­ers who did. “Our first lady of the United States is so gra­cious — and from her heart she cares,” said Pas­tor Court­ney C. Maxwell, who of­fi­ci­ated.

The au­di­ence of roughly 1,000 mourn­ers held hands, sang along and swayed dur­ing a rous­ing ren­di­tion of “We Shall Over­come.”

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can, a former Chicago Pub­lic Schools chief, sat with Jar­rett and the first lady. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illi­nois Gov. Pat Quinn, both Democrats, also at­tended, as did the Rev. Jesse Jack­son.

To Pendle­ton’s mother, known as Cleo, the show of dig­ni­taries was at times over­whelm­ing. “You kind of don’t know how to act,” she con­fessed.

Her re­marks ranged from the jovial — “If I knew how to dance, I would. . . . We’ve got the first lady as a mother in the house” — to the se­ri­ous. Of rais­ing Hadiya, she said, “I kept her busy so she wouldn’t run into the el­e­ment. I had her think­ing from the time she could speak.”

As soft or­gan mu­sic played, mem­bers of the im­me­di­ate fam­ily re­ceived com­mu­nion. Flo­ral ar­range­ments were car­ried out and Pendle­ton’s cas­ket was read­ied for burial.

At day’s end, a repast was held at the South Shore Cul­tural Cen­ter. On an Oc­to­ber day 21 years ear­lier, Barack and Michelle Obama had their wed­ding re­cep­tion there.

NAM Y. HUH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

TANNEN MAURY/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

TOP: Danyia Bell, left, and Ar­ture­ana Ter­rell, both 16, cry as they read a pro­gram for Hadiya Pendle­ton’s funeral ser­vice, which Michelle Obama also at­tended. ABOVE: Wear­ing sashes that read “We love you, Hadiya,” school­mates of the teenage hon­ors stu­dent ar­rive at Greater Har­vest Bap­tist Church in Chicago.

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