High school student Hadiya Pendleton had just reached the pinnacle of her young life, performing as a band majorette at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. One week later, the 15 year-old was randomly gunned down in a park in Chicago by an unknown assailant.
On Wednesday, a day after Hadiya’s death, gun violence victim Gabriel Giffords made a poignant statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on gun violence. Speaking with great effort because of the damage caused by bullets that tore through her own flesh and bone, she said:
“Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats, and Republicans.
“Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important.
“Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying – too many children. We must do something.
“It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be Courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.”
Too many children. Too many innocent victims. Hadiya was an honors student, a member of the marching band, a volleyball player, and “a walking angel” according to her cousin, Shatira Wilks. So how could this have happened to an angel, leaving devastation behind in the lives of so many others?
From Hadiya’s mother, Cleo Cowley, came the words no mother ever wants to speak:
“Never in a million years did I think I would get a call that my own baby had been gunned down…Where are the guns coming from? I don’t own a gun. My daughter was not violent. I never would have thought she would die like this.”
From Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, at Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing:
“Yesterday, in a rainstorm after school, she raced to a shelter. A gunman came in and shot her dead. We have guns everywhere [a sweeping gesture of the hand]. And some believe the solution is more guns. I disagree.”
From Hadiya’s godfather, Chicago police officer Damon Stewart:
“As usual, the bad guy aims, but he never hits the other bad guy … He hits the one that hurts the most to lose … My heart is broken.”
From her father, Nathaniel Pendleton:
“This guy, whoever he was, the gunman, man, you took the light of my life. Just look at yourself and just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a non-violent person. This kid didn’t like violence at all, didn’t even like to fight, avoided a fight, moved away from anything that was not positive. She was a majorette, just came back from the inauguration. She was destined for great things and you stripped that from her.”
From Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said Hadiya was “what is best in our city”:
“If anybody has any information, you are not a snitch, you’re a citizen. You’re a good citizen in good standing if you help.”
There’s an $11,000 reward for information about the killer. There’s a petition circulating that asks President Obama to attend her funeral. But when all is said and done, the fact remains: Hadiya Pendleton is dead.
From her ten-year-old brother, Nathaniel Pendleton Jr.:
“It’s very painful to see your big sister get slaughtered.”
Ten years old.
For the sake of Nathaniel, Jr., and all the children: When do we stop the slaughter?