Authorities said two gang members were charged with murder Monday in the death of a 15-year-old Chicago honor student who was shot just days after returning from Washington, where she performed during President Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities.
Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, were charged with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, Chicago police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said.
The two young men were described by police as “persons of interest” when they were taken into custody early Sunday, a day after first lady Michelle Obama and other dignitaries attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton.
Pendleton, a popular high school majorette, was with a group of friends who took cover during a rainstorm under a canopy in a park about a mile from the Obama home on the city’s South Side. Police said a man hopped a fence, ran toward them and opened fire with a handgun. Pendleton was struck in the back and died later that day. Two others were injured.
Police have said none of the people in Pendleton’s group were affiliated with gangs but that the gunman apparently mistook one for a member of a rival gang that had encroached on his gang’s turf. The men charged Monday live nearby, Stratton said.
Pendleton’s death was one of more than 40 homicides in Chicago in January, a total that made it the deadliest January in the city in more than a decade. But it was her background, her ties to the president’s inauguration and the location of the park that thrust her death into the national headlines and put Chicago at the center of a national debate over gun control.
Not only did the first lady attend the teen’s funeral, but the girl’s parents were set to sit with Michelle Obama during the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Obama is scheduled to return to Chicago three days later to discuss gun violence.