CHICAGO — She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to.
First lady Michelle Obama, simply by being at a Chicago church Saturday and mourning the killing of a 15-year-old girl she had never met, spotlighted the everyday gun and gang violence plaguing the nation’s cities.
“Genocide,” one eulogist called it, lamenting that guns had “become part of our wardrobe.”
Since being gunned down in Chicago a week after performing with the King College Prep high school’s majorette team during President Obama’s second inaugural festivities, Hadiya Pendleton has become a symbol for the innocence lost to senseless shootings.
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The Rev. Michael Pfleger described her as an “innocent victim of gun violence.” Her killing, he said, raised a question: “When did we lose our soul?”
The first lady, who met privately with Pendleton’s family and about 30 of her classmates, did not speak at the funeral. But her presence carried heavy political overtones, coming as the president is pressuring Congress to enact tougher gun-control laws.
The funeral at Greater Harvest Baptist Church drew many dignitaries: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as Michelle Obama.
Pendleton was remembered as an honors student and majorette who loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss and aspired to major in pharmacology or journalism in
college. She wanted to go to Harvard University. One after another, Pendleton’s teary-eyed classmates recalled her contagious smile and soft, baby voice.
“She tried to tell a scary story, but no one could take her seriously,” one said.
A week after the inauguration, a gunman opened fire on Pendleton and some friends while they were at a park after school. Police said Pendleton was an innocent victim likely caught in the crossfire of a gang fight.
For the Obamas, Pendleton’s death Jan. 29 hit home. She went to school only a mile from the Obama family home. The Obamas thought about their daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, said Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser and close friend of the Obamas. “It’s personal for us,” said Jarrett, who accompanied Michelle Obama to the funeral and grew up in Chicago.
Pendleton’s mother, Cleopatra, thanked the crowd for its support and added: “You don’t know how hard this really is. And those of you who do know how hard this is, I’m sorry. No mother, no father should ever have to experience this.”
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.