(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
A teen girl who performed as a majorette at President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities last week has been shot dead at a park in Chicago, sparking outrage in the violence-hit community.
"He took the light of my life," Hadiya's Pendleton father, Nathaniel, told reporters, according to MSN.com. He then addressed the shooter directly: "Look at yourself, just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person."
The incident occurred on Tuesday afternoon at a park only a mile away from Obama's home in Chicago. The 15-year-old girl was apparently talking with friends when a gunman who was not even aiming at her opened fire, and shot her in the back. Pandleton was rushed to hospital, but died of her wounds.
The city has already experienced over 42 homicides in January alone, its highest death total for over a decade. Last year, over 500 people were killed.
Reacting to the news, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney revealed that the president's "thoughts and prayers" are with the grieving family and added: "It's a terrible tragedy any time a young person is struck down with so much of their life ahead of them, and we see it far too often. And as the president has said, we will never be able to eradicate every act of evil in this country, but if we can save any one child's life, we have an obligation to try when it comes to the scourge of gun violence."
When asked whether Chicago was an example of a city where strict gun control laws don't necessarily mean less gun violence, as the NRA has argued, Obama said: "Well, the problem is that a huge proportion of those guns come in from outside Chicago."
Many in the community have expressed their thoughts on the shooting and shared memories of the girl.
"She was a very active kid, doing dance, cheerleading, who felt like she could accomplish just about anything, a very good student who had big dreams about what she wanted to be, a doctor, an attorney," commented Damon Stewart, a Chicago police officer and attorney. "She was constantly getting good grades."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has pushed for tougher laws in efforts to curb homicides and violence, also spoke about Pendleton at a local media event on Wednesday.
"She had dreams," Emanuel said. "And these – this gang-banger, this punk – took that away from [her mother] Cleopatra, they took it away from Hadiya and, in my view, they took it away from the city of Chicago."
The shooter has not yet been caught, but Chicago police have said that "every indication now points to the fact that the area is a hangout for gang members."