CHICAGO — Hadiya Pendleton was remembered as an inspiration, a mentor and a shining example of Chicago’s youth, as hundreds of mourners packed a South Side church to remember the girl, who was gunned down nearly two weeks ago.
First lady Michelle Obama, looking solemn in a black dress, comforted Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, as she hovered over a white-and-purple casket at Greater Harvest Baptist Church in Washington Park. Hadiya's family was dressed in purple, her favorite color, according to a pool report from the scene.
Dignitaries including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Father Michael Pfleger were in attendance.
Long lines stretched down the block as hundreds, warmly dressed, waited to enter the church, which seats about 1,000. The church quickly filled up, and some mourners were moved to an overflow area that had a closed-circuit television.
Guests who were invited by the family entered a short security line, wearing orange wrist bands. Hadiya's classmates and friends were given green wristbands.
Some of those in attendance are wearing warm-up jackets emblazoned with the words "Crystal Elegance Majorettes." Hadiya was a majorette at King College Prep, and performed at President Barack Obama's inauguration last month.
Hadiya's mother laughed when talking about her daughter, and thanked loved ones, Mayor Emanuel and Mrs. Obama for their support.
"The outpouring of support has been absolutely amazing,” she said. “In it, you kind of don’t know how to act. All y’all don’t know me.”
She celebrated her daughter's life: “I’m not worried about her soul. I know where she is.”
Hadiya's aunt, Linda Wilks, spoke of how her niece's death has resounded across the city.
"We must ask ourselves, 'Why do I feel like this for this little girl? What is it about her that begs that we pay attention?' It's the inner light of spirit that radiates from Hadiya. We cannot allow darkness to prevail. We must be the light. Hadiya's light has proven to be potent," she said.
“She had goals, dreams and too many friends,” said Shontae Higginbottom, principal of King College Prep, where Hadiya was a sophomore.
Two of Hidaya’s friends read a poem, remembering Hadiya and condemning the person who shot her.
“It’s sad,” they said, “you have to watch your front while watching your back.
“We’re sorry, Hadiyah. We miss you.”
"That smile lit up a room," Hadiya's friend, Kaylen Jones said. "That smile reminded me of everything there is to smile about.
"She's right here with all of us, whispering answers in chemistry," she said to laughter.
Her friend, Amber, said, "To me, she was golden. ...So many memories, and all of them end in a laugh."
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett could not attend, but issued a statement read by Higginbottom.
“Unless we stand united as a city and a community, these tragedies will not end,” she said.
Pfleger lamented how “guns have become part of our wardrobe.”
“Your angel has become the face [of] this tragic epidemic that is causing the funerals of our children,” he said, urging the crowd to become “interrupters of this genocide.”
The murder of Hadiya, he said, “full of potential and possibility, full of talent and dreams, shakes our very confidence…and begs the question when did we lose our soul?”
Police say they're making progress in the case, which has drawn national attention and scrutiny, and has made Hadiya a symbol of violence plauging Chicago. A $40,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the capture of the girl's killer.
“We have gotten a significant number of tips from the community and others and we are actively investigating each and every one," said police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton.
A 43-year-old man was arrested outside the church this morning after causing a disturbance. Officer John Mirabelli, a police spokesman, said the man was loud and verbally abusive. When officers asked him to remain calm, “he continued to rant and scream and cause a disturbance.”
The man was charged with disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. Mirabelli didn’t know why the man was shouting.