The two men charged in the January shooting death of Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton were gang members who were looking for revenge when they opened fire on the 15-year-old and a group of her friends in a South Side park, according to a statement one of them has given to Chicago police.
Michael Ward, 18 and Kenneth Williams, 20 were both charged with first degree murder Monday in the Jan. 29 homicide, which took the life of the honors student who had just days before performed as a majorette in the presidential inauguration parade with her school. Additional charges include attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. At a Tuesday hearing, both were ordered held without bail.
Pendleton, an honors student at King College Prep High School, was sheltering from the rain along with a group of friends after taking exams when a gunman jumped a fence and ran toward the group, firing at them and fatally wounding Pendleton.
Chicago police say the suspects were attempting to retaliate for a shooting that wounded Williams last July. Ward told police that they mistook one of the youths in the group for the shooter in that incident. The two suspects got out of their car, approached the teens and opened fire, then quickly jumped into their car and fled the scene, which was in a neighborhood that sits about a mile from President Obama’s home.
“Michael Ward has confessed and indicated that Hadiya was not the intended target,” said Chicago police superintendent Gerry McCarthy at a press conference. “In fact, the offenders had it all wrong. They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang.” The suspects were apprehended and brought in for questioning on Saturday, McCarthy said.
First Lady Michelle Obama had attended Hadiya’s funeral only hours earlier.
Ward, who was already on probation for unlawful use of a firearm after pleading guilty in a 2011 arrest, had first been spotted and stopped by police last week as part of a gang investigation. But his car was described by witnesses as being similar to the one seen driving away from the scene of the shooting. Cooperation from several people in the neighborhood gave detectives enough clues to focus on Ward and Williams, prompting authorities to bring them in. Police have not recovered a weapon in the case and Williams has not yet confessed to the crime.
The shooting — of a promising young student with ties to a President who has made curbing gun violence a priority of his Adminstration — has become a flashpoint in ongoing national debate over gun control. The arrests come as the teenager’s parents prepare to attend the State of the Union address on Tuesday as guests of the Obamas, at which the President is expected to discuss his plans for gun control.
Nathaniel Pendleton, Hadiya’s father, told the Chicago Tribune that he is “thanking God that these two guys are off the streets, so that this doesn’t happen to another innocent person.”