Hadiya Pendleton's slaying made her a national symbol of gun violence in Chicago. But for her family and friends, Friday's visitation at a South Side funeral home was mostly about the loss of a bright and bubbly teenager.
"She was like a shooting star. Have you ever seen a kid without a doubt?" said Damon Stewart, Pendleton's godfather. "We had so much hope in her future."
The 15-year-old's body lay in an open casket at Calahan Funeral Home in Englewood, dressed in a vibrant purple dress embellished with sparkles. A slide show playing on TV sets showed Hadiya as a baby being held by her mother, a toddler sitting on the Easter Bunny's lap and a young girl smiling in pink sunglasses.
"We're not picking up the pieces. We're trying to figure out where the pieces are," Stewart said.
Hadiya was a majorette for King College Prep's band and performed during President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities just days before she was slain, shot in the back while hanging out with friends at a North Kenwood neighborhood park. The shooter, police said, was after someone else.
First lady Michelle Obama is expected to attend Hadiya's funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at Greater Harvest Baptist Church, as are Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn. Stewart, a Chicago police officer, acknowledged the wide-ranging effect of Hadiya's death.
"She's that face," Stewart said. "She's out in front, and now all those other people's stories can be heard. She is a voice for those who haven't had a voice. She's not being treated different. She's important because they're important."
Michelle Obama's plan to come to the funeral puts Chicago solidly in the middle of a national debate over gun violence that has polarized Congress and forced President Obama to take his gun control initiatives on the road to garner more public support.
The first lady's visit is being seen not only as a gesture of condolence to the family but as part of an effort to draw attention and support for the president's gun initiatives.
In Chicago, where the homicide toll topped 500 last year, Emanuel has moved to toughen city gun laws. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has pushed to tighten loopholes in local gun laws. During his annual State of the State address this week, Gov. Pat Quinn mentioned Hadiya as an example of why the state needs tougher gun laws.
On Friday, as Hadiya's family gathered at the funeral home, the Rev. Jesse Jackson walked in with her parents and a young brother.
Dozens of flower bouquets lined the room, and a large photo of Hadiya was on display. Visitors, including police officers, signed the registry and wrote messages on a dedication board.
"Baby, God got you back! You are a beautiful angel now," one mourner wrote.
Amber Mayo, 15, stood alone outside, crying softly after viewing her friend's body. The two girls danced together at Mayfair Academy of Fine Arts, Mayo said.
"I'm very hurt. They took a great person away," she said. "I don't want anyone to forget about her."
Brandon Durr, 18, and Jahnise Robinson, 18, said they graduated recently from King College Prep. Both were somber as they went to pay their respects.
"This is devastating and overwhelming," Robinson said.
Durr said he met Hadiya through some of his younger friends. He was in class at Kennedy-King College when he got a text that said Hadiya had been shot and killed.
"I broke down in class," Durr said. "What can we do? She's gone."
Durr said he believes the solution to the violence epidemic in Chicago lies with families.
"My parents didn't let me out there. It all starts at home," he said. "These kids need a sense of purpose. They don't have that."
Media trucks and police cars lined Halsted Street outside the funeral home. Some who attended the visitation had never met Hadiya or her family but felt compelled to attend out of respect or a shared connection.
"This poor young lady," said John Burdette, 64, of Hyde Park. "Things are nuts out there, and it's terrible."
Carlos Marshall, 41, and his daughter, Carleonna, 14, didn't know the Pendletons. But they said they have experienced similar pain. In 2008, Marshall's son was killed at 48th Street and Drexel Boulevard, just blocks from where Hadiya was shot, he said.
"I know what these parents are going through and wanted to show my support," Marshall said.
As her father talked about her brother's death, Carleonna began to cry.
"It makes me so sad," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun