By Todd Lighty, Jeremy Gorner, Jennifer Delgado and John Byrne
2:44 PM EST, February 11, 2013
Charges could come this evening against two people being questioned in the shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said today.
"We will bring this all to closure, probably sometime this evening we're anticipating hopefully that we'll have charges," McCarthy said at a news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to announce a push for stiffer jail terms for people convicted of gun crimes.
McCarthy declined to provide more specifics, saying the investigation is ongoing.
"We're still doing lineups. We're still crossing some t's and dotting some i's that we need to do before we can get charges approved for these individuals," he said.
Chicago police picked up the two men, 18 and 20, over the weekend, hours after first lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral for the teenager whose death has become a symbol of escalating violence in Chicago.
The men were pulled over near East 67th Street and South Chicago Avenue late Saturday night or early Sunday morning after detectives canvassed the area of the park where she was shot and killed Jan. 29 and tracked down witnesses, the sources said.
Hadiya was fatally shot in Vivian Gordon Harsh Park, about a mile north of President Barack Obama's Kenwood neighborhood home on the South Side, a little more than a week after the honor student performed with the King College Prep band in Washington during inauguration festivities. Two other teens were wounded.
The shooting in the 4400 block of South Oakenwald Avenue happened after classes were dismissed for the day during finals week at King. Hadiya, a sophomore at King, was at the park with a group of teens, primarily other students from the school, when a male gunman climbed over a fence, ran to the group and started firing, police have said. The shooter escaped in what has been described as a white Nissan vehicle, possibly driven by a getaway driver.
One of the sources said at least one of the men brought into custody was riding in a Nissan Sentra, one of the two vehicles police pulled over when bringing the pair into custody. The source didn't know that Nissan's color.
Police have insisted the teens in Hadiya's group who had gathered in the park were not involved in gangs. But police have been looking into whether the gunman may have mistaken them for rival gang members.
While police and neighbors have generally described Harsh Park and its immediate surroundings as safe, there has been an internal gang conflict brewing in the area between factions of the Gangster Disciples, police said. The two men being questioned Sunday are alleged members of the Gangster Disciples, sources said.
One of the two men has a previous weapons conviction, according to court records.
In addition to Hadiya's homicide, there have been at least three other shootings within blocks of Harsh Park so far this year, according to police records.
No charges have been filed against the men, who are being held at Area Central police headquarters on the South Side.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel personally called Hadiya's parents, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel Pendleton, to inform them of the development, according to a source. Nathaniel Pendleton told the Tribune on Sunday night that he didn't want to say too much about the men being questioned because charges have not been filed.
“Right now, we're just happy that Chicago police have some leads and things are moving,” he said.
Shatira Wilks, a cousin of Hadiya's and a family spokesperson, said the development is a “good response” and better news than the family had Saturday.
Arrests and charges “will bring a small level of closure to the family, although (the shooter) still will be allowed to eat, drink, mingle,” Wilks said. “The thing about that is, Hadiya is no longer (able) to do so.”
On how Hadiya's family is doing, Wilks said, “Everyone keeps asking that. I don't know if you'll ever get an answer that we're feeling good or we're feeling fine.”
Hadiya's godmother, LaKeisha Stewart, said questioning the men is a good start, but she's more eager to find out when or if charges are filed.
“Until this person is off the streets for good, that an example is made to … other people like him -- that's when I'll breathe a sigh of relief,” Stewart said. “For me, when the person is in court and a judge says they are responsible for her murder … to me, that's when this will make a difference.”
Hadiya's death occurred during the deadliest January for Chicago since 2002. It also came on the heels of a homicide total last year that was the highest since 2008, and the second highest since 2003.
The playground where Hadiya was shot was the setting for an amateur rap video posted to YouTube. The video, which also highlights the intersection at South Oakenwald and East 44th Place, uses the moniker of a local gang in an opening credit and features a rapper shown leaving the Cook County Jail, then threatening to shoot down his foes.
The video ends at a house party with a smiling teenage girl flashing gang signs at the camera.
The first lady's attendance at Hadiya's funeral placed Chicago even further into the spotlight of a national debate over gun violence that has polarized Congress and led the president to take his gun-control initiatives on the road to garner more public support.
Neither the first lady nor elected officials gave remarks during the funeral. Only the friends and relatives who knew Hadiya best were allowed to speak.
In the days following Hadiya's death, clergy and community leaders raised $40,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the teen's killer or killers. McCarthy has said that detectives have received numerous tips to follow up on for the homicide investigation.
Tribune reporter Carlos Sadovi contributed to this story.
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