(Photo: REUTERS/John Gress)
Called "the face of an epidemic of violence" sweeping America, a 15-year-old girl who performed as a majorette at President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony was buried in Chicago following her murder on Jan. 29.
Hadiya Pendleton's funeral was held on Saturday in Chicago, CBS News reported, and it was attended by the young teen's many family and friends, including First Lady Michelle Obama and prominent Chicago pastor Father Michael Pfleger.
Father Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest, described Pendleton's murder as part of "an epidemic of violence causing funeral processions around the country," at a South Side church on Saturday. He urged people to become "the interrupters of funeral processions" and stop the trend of young people being killed.
A handwritten letter by President Barack Obama was read out during the ceremony. "Michelle and I just wanted you to know how heartbroken we are to have heard about Hadiya's passing. 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."
Pendleton, who performed during the inauguration day festivities, was shot dead in a random attack by a gunman at a park only a mile away from the Obama residence in Chicago. The young teen was shot in the back and rushed to hospital, but later died of her wounds. The Associated Press reported that on Sunday, two men were taken into custody as "persons of interest' regarding the investigation over the girl's death.
"He took the light of my life," Pendleton father, Nathaniel, told reporters after his daughter's death, and addressed the shooter directly: "Look at yourself, just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person."
"You don't know how hard this is. For those of you who do know how hard this is, I'm sorry," added Cowley-Pendleton, the mother. "No mother, no father should ever have to experience this."
It was the 42nd homicide in January in Chicago alone, the highest death total in over a decade. Last year was marked by a number of mass shooting tragedies in America, which reignited the gun control debate. President Obama and his administration have called for stronger gun control laws to try and curb mass-shooting incidents, but the National Rifle Association and some conservatives have warned that a ban on assault weapons would impose on America's 2nd Amendment rights.
CBS reported that hundreds of mourners and dignitaries attended Saturday's funeral, which also included speeches from the young girl's relatives.
"Hadiya's life has touched individuals, mothers, fathers, families and governments across this planet," said Linda Wilks, the girl's aunt. "If this does not demonstrate the power of light and love, we are a people deeply cloaked in darkness.
Michelle Obama is said to have met privately with members of Pendleton's family and 30 of her friends and classmates before the funeral, sharing her condolences with the grieving relatives.