Two gang members were charged with murder Monday in the death of a 15-year-old honor student who was shot near the Chicago home of President Barack Obama just days after she performed during his inauguration festivities in Washington, authorities said.
The men were arrested Saturday night at 67th and King Drive, the same day first lady Michelle Obama and other dignitaries attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton.
Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, are now 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. She said police believe both men are gang members.
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.
"They parked the parked car and Ward crept up on foot spraying gunfire into the group, striking Hadiya and the other two teens," Supt. Gary McCarthy explained at a press conference Monday.
McCarthy said ward confessed to the crime and said the shooting was retaliation for a gang ambush last July when Williams was shot in the arm. But, Williams declined to press charges.
"Two carloads of these young men came out and were going to a celebration of one of their friend's birthdays at a strip club in Harvey is the story that they told us," McCarthy said.
Superintendent Garry McCarthy said this was a crime that should never have happened, but did because of lax laws in Illinois that put Ward back on the street after an arrest for unlawful use of a weapon. He also said that this case would never have happened in New York because their tougher gun laws would have kept Michael Ward in jail after his gun arrest.
"If mandatory minimums existed in the state of Illinois, Michael Ward would not have been on the street to commit this heinous act," McCarthy explained. "He plead guilty in January 2012 and was sentenced to two years probation."
The arrests were credited to the around-the-clock efforts of the gang and detective units. The superintendent expressed disappointment in the willingness of people who knew who the killers were to come forward.
"The community provided a lot of tips. None of them panned out nor did they lead to closure in this particular case," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said they had stopped Ward two days before the murder. They had information about him in their system. That information combined with the description of the car fleeing the scene the night of Hadiya's murder helped them develop Ward as a suspect about a week after the murder.
It is unclear if anyone will be able to claim the $40000 reward, as police say it was not any specific tip that lead them to the suspects.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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