First lady Obama attends funeral for slain Chicago teen
CHICAGO — She didn't say anything, but she didn't have to.
First lady Michelle Obama — simply by filing into a church pew on Chicago's South Side on Saturday and mourning the killing of a smiling 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 have “become part of our wardrobe.”
Another exhorted the politicians in the pews: “Don't give us lip service.”
The Rev. Michael Pfleger vowed: “We must become the interrupters of funeral processions seeking to bury our future.”
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.
The first lady, who met privately with Pendleton's family and about 30 of her classmates, did not speak at the funeral, which lasted for four hours. But her appearance carried heavy political overtones, occurring as the president is pressuring Congress to enact tougher gun laws.
For the Obamas, the teen's death on Jan. 29 hit home — Pendleton went to school only a mile from the Obamas' 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. “The first lady and I grew up in Chicago. It could have been our daughters. So as residents of Chicago, residents of the South Side, our heart just goes out to her family. ... We may not have known her, but she's a part of our family, too.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools chief, sat with Jarrett and the first lady. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, both Democrats, also attended, as did the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
To Pendleton's mother, known as Cleo, the show of dignitaries was at times overwhelming. “You kind of don't know how to act,” she confessed.