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Top Cop Vows to Find Student's Killer: 'We Are Going to Get This One Done'

By  Geoff Ziezulewicz Quinn Ford Emily Morris and Darryl Holliday | January 30, 2013 9:04am | Updated on January 30, 2013 6:26pm

KENWOOD — Chicago Police investigating the slaying of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton said the gunman got into a waiting white Nissan that was possibly driven by a second person.

And the city's top cop and mayor urged anyone who knows who fired the shots to step up.

Neither the shooter nor the getaway driver is in custody, but police are interviewing teens who were with Hadiya when she was gunned down Tuesday — just more than a week after performing in Washington, D.C. at President Barack Obama's inauguration.

"I don't want this to be a three- to four-month case," Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said. "I want this closed now.

"We're going to get this one done," he said. "Anybody who thinks this town belongs to a gang is wrong. We're going to make a point that this town belongs to the community."

 Students at King College Prep decorated Hadiya Pendleton's locker Wednesday to honor the slain 15-year-old.
Students at King College Prep decorated Hadiya Pendleton's locker Wednesday to honor the slain 15-year-old.
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Hadiya, a high school sophomore, was gunned down not far from the president's Chicago home. Her murder is drawing national attention — including prayers from the president and First Lady Michelle Obama.

"It's a terrible tragedy any time a young person is struck down with so much of their life ahead of them," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. "And we see it far too often. The president and first lady's thoughts and prayers are with the family of Hadiya Pendleton. All of our thoughts and prayers are with her family."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the teen's killer "a punk" who robbed the girl's family and Chicago. He also urged witnesses to come forward to identify the gunman, saying "you are not a snitch, you are a citizen."

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, at the news conference with McCarthy, urged anyone with information to come forward.  They offered $14,000 for information leading to an arrest, and urged people with informaiton to call (312) 747-8382.

"Somebody knows right now, sitting in their home — some young person knows. Some young friend of theirs knows. Some parent knows. Some adult knows," the activist priest said. "Where are you?"

"What kind of person are you that you let a killer come home and sit, eat and watch TV? It's not acceptable. ... So we're putting a bounty out on the head of the killer, so they can't kill again."

Said McCarthy: "This goes to the culture of 'no-snitch.' These kids are scared and I don't blame them."

Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, had a message for the ones who he said "took the light of my life."

"Look at yourself and know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person. This kid didn't like violence at all," he said.

"She was destined for great things and you stripped that from her."

"I'm gonna miss her every holiday — miss that I can't see her smile," he added.

Hadiya was one of 42 people slain in Chicago already this year. Six of the victims were under 18.

Hadiya was a sophomore at King College Prep — and had just finished final exams. She was with a group of teens, trying to stay out of the rain while under a canopy at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park in the 4500 block of South Oakenwald Avenue at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, authorities said.

About 2:30 p.m, an unidentified shooter jumped a fence, ran toward them and opened fire. The group scrambled, police said. The shooter jumped into a car, which was driven by a second man, and it sped away, police said.

Hadiya was hit in the back and later died, while another student, Lawrence Sellers, 17, was hit in the leg and remains at Comer Hospital.  Police said Wednesday that another boy suffered a graze wound and walked to a nearby hospital.

Police on Tuesday said in a statement that "by all indications the female victim was an unintended target." But the statement said "preliminary information indicates that most of the members of the group were gang members."

McCarthy said Wednesday they had interviewed the other kids in the group with Hadiya and he again emphasized that she wasn't involved with a gang and had no criminal background.

"In fact every indication points to the fact that none of the individuals who were here and in the group were involved in any sort of criminal activity," McCarthy said. "What we believe happened is that this is some sort of territory that some gang calls their own."

Police had made no arrests as of Wednesday evening.

At Hadiya's home Wednesday, relatives described the girl as a loving daughter and sister with a huge heart who always helped others.

Family members stood near a fridge adorned with loads of Hadiya’s perfect test scores, and her mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, said she was heartened by the parents who had come up to her and thanked her for Hadiya’s positive effect on their children.

She said the shooting came just weeks before she was to go on a 10-day trip to London, Dublin and Paris with classmates. Before going to the inauguration, she had gone with the majorettes to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

“She always wanted to study abroad,” Cowley-Pendleton said. “I was trying to let her see more.”

She loved to read and loved her Kindle.

“The books had to be big,” she said, recalling that her daughter read the Twilight series in two days.

“She was ‘Team Edward’ all the way,” her aunt, Kimiko Pettis said, referring to a main character in the book/movie franchise.

 Hadiya Pendleton, 15, in her dance troupe uniform. Hadiya performed at President Obama's inauguration.
Hadiya Pendleton, 15, in her dance troupe uniform. Hadiya performed at President Obama's inauguration.
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Hadiya loved to write and thought she might one day become a journalist, her mom said.

Pettis added that her niece particularly enjoyed her Latin class at school.

Hadiya played volleyball, basketball and was a cheerleader, but she really loved being a majorette and worked hard at it, Pettis said.

She enjoyed studying new things like dancing, and she loved the makeup and pretty outfits, her aunt said.

On her Twitter page, Hadiya at times talked about school.

"I'm worried about finals," she tweeted to a friend. She also mentioned the struggles of juggling her academic work with being an athlete.

"I'm tired," she wrote in her last tweet, which was sent at 8:53 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, finals scheduled for Wednesday at King College Prep were canceled for the day, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman said. CPS also offered counselors for students and parents.

Outside King Prep Wednesday morning, students still headed into class, many wearing red as a tribute to Hadiya. Students decorated her locker with photos and signs.

Red was her favorite color, said Basha Adams, 15, a fellow sophomore who said she had been friends with the student since last year.

"She was that person that would always have a smile on her face," Basha said, her cheeks stained with tears. "She would be the light that would make everything seem clear and bright."

The two had traveled to Obama's inauguration, and Adams recalled the fun they had at the Smithsonian Museum on the trip to the nation's capital.

"She acted like an airplane as we looked at Bessie Coleman's biography," Basha said of the first African-American female pilot.

Basha said one of her lasting memories of Hadiya will be the teen dancing in front of her while she played clarinet in the nation's capital.

"That's something I will always cherish," she said. "She was the sweetest person you could ever meet. I'm hanging in there, but it's going to be a tough day."

Kendall Warton, a sophomore, said Hadiya had a lot of friends.

"She was a very loving and outgoing person," Warton said. "She really had an open mind and was free-spirited."

Warton described Sellers as the "class clown."

Janai Bates, 17, said she didn't know of anyone who had "any problems" with either one of the victims.

"Lawrence and Hadiya aren’t the type of people to get in a conflict with anybody," Bates said. "Everybody loved them, they joked with everybody, they give out that warmth."

Meanwhile, parents worried about the safety of their children as they left their kids at the selective enrollment school.

Sean Hill pulled his daughter close and held her as she sobbed outside the school. He gave her a final hug before she went inside.

Hill said his "heart just hit the floor" when he found out Tuesday that Hadiya had been killed, a parent's worst nightmare.

"Every day they walk out your door, you're concerned," he said. "They're just trying to be kids. But our kids can't be kids anymore. It's sickening."

LaTosha Fleming said her daughter, Chynna, cried all night Tuesday.

"It's difficult to comfort her," Fleming, 45, a paralegal, said. "I just hugged her and told her it would be OK."

Fleming's family had recently moved from Naperville and this was her daughter's first year at the school, she said, but that she is already considering moving them again.

Parent Willy Curtis said he reminded his children to be very careful.

"You don't know when it's going to happen or where it's going to happen," he said. "It can happen under a tree."