CHICAGO — Hadiya Pendleton's parents "deserve a vote" in the national debate on gun control, President Barack Obama said Tuesday during his State of the Union address.
Obama said Hadiya's Jan 29. slaying at a South Side park, along with the violent deaths of others since the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., demonstrate the need for stricter gun control laws.
"One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton," Obama said. "She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house."
Obama said that Hadiya’s parents, who were seated next to first lady Michelle Obama during the speech, "along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence ... deserve a vote" in the national debate on gun control.
Those remarks received one of the most enthusiastic standing ovations of the night.
Earlier, Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, hugged Michelle Obama as she entered the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday evening. Before the speech, Cowley-Pendleton could be seen chatting with Michelle Obama, who came to Chicago for Hadiya's funeral last weekend and spoke with her friends. Hadiya's father, Nate Pendleton, was seated next to Cowley-Pendleton.
Although she wasn't at the speech, Kimiko Pettis, Hadiya's aunt, said she was happy that her niece's "legacy will live on. She's a voice for all the people who came before her who had no attention."
Pettis added: "We miss her. We need to make sure there is attention brought to this issue."
Toward the end of his speech, Obama, who also plans to visit Chicago Friday to talk about gun violence, indeed focused his attention on the nation's gun violence problem.
"Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment — have come together around common sense reform — like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun," Obama said. "Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because those police chiefs, they are tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned.
"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress," the president said, to loud applause from lawmakers. "If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."
Hadiya’s parents and others whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence "deserve a vote," Obama said. "Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote. They deserve a simple vote."
Wrapping up his remarks, Obama acknowledged that "Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government."
Hadiya's murder drew an international spotlight on Chicago's violence. Fresh off a visit to Washington, D.C., to perform in Obama's inauguration activities, the King College Prep student was gunned down on a rare warm winter day.
She and a group of friends were huddled under a shelter in Vivian Gordon Harsh Park, trying to avoid the rain, when a gunman ambushed them, shooting Hadiya in the back and wounding two others.
Hours after she was buried, police arrested two alleged gang members. They were charged late Monday. Authorities said they mistook Hadiya's group as rival gang members.
The two — Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20 — were ordered held without bond Tuesday, hours before Obama addressed the nation.
Prosecutors said Ward confessed on videotape to shooting Hadiya and the two others.
After his arrest, Ward told investigators Hadiya had nothing to do with his gang beef, prosecutors said. "She was just there," prosecutors said, quoting Ward.
The rival gang had killed one of Ward's friends, and the gangs had been trading gunfire since 2010, prosecutors said.
"If we keep standing for this, we are going to be some straight bitches," Ward allegedly told police after his arrest. "It hurt. It hurt to a point where everyone had to go."
Ward, of the 300 block of West 59th Street and Williams, of the 3900 block of South Lake Park Avenue each were charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.
Williams was the alleged getaway driver, driving a white Nissan owned by Ward's mother. Prosecutors said Ward did the shooting because Williams, who had been shot earlier this year, would be recognized when he went into the park.
Prosecutors said cellphone records put Williams near Harsh Park at the time of the shooting.
Ward's attorney, Jeffrey Granich, said his client deserves his day in court and claimed Ward had been "railroaded."
"This is a serious criminal case … this is not a political platform," Granich said after the hearing. "The problem when criminal cases get made into political cases is rules are bent and mistakes are made."
Prosecutors said Williams made statements implicating himself to a third party, a witness in the case.
But attorney Matthew McQuaid, who is representing Williams, said the 20-year-old man never confessed to any wrongdoing.