Hadiya Pendleton murder suspects named — charges filed against two reputed gang members
by MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporteremail@example.com February 11, 2013 6:34PM
Watch video of Monday’s press conference on the arrests at suntimes.com.
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:26AM
As first lady Michelle Obama, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and hundreds of teary-eyed mourners attended the funeral of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton Saturday, the men police say were responsible for her murder were gearing up to head to a strip club.
Police say they arrested Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, both reputed gang members, as they headed to a strip club Saturday in Harvey to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
“I don’t even know what to say about that,” Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said. “They were going out to celebrate at a strip club.”
Ward did not hold up under questioning and confessed to pulling the trigger and firing into a group of King College Prep students at a North Kenwood neighborhood park that he mistook for rival gang members, police said. The pair were allegedly seeking retaliation after Williams was shot in the arm in July.
Williams declined to help prosecute the man police arrested for the shooting, instead choosing to seek street justice, police said.
“The offenders had it all wrong,” McCarthy said Monday evening after announcing murder charges against both men. “They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang, instead, it was a group of upstanding determined kids, who, like Hadiya, were repulsed by the gang life style.”
Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Pendleton, was thrilled by the news.
“I’m ecstatic. The whole family is ecstatic. I just pray they are penalized to the full extent of the law,” said Pendleton, who was in the nation’s capital to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
“There’s no closure,” she said of the arrests. “She was robbed of a lot of different experiences, but it helps.”
Ward, of the 300 block of West 59th Street, and Williams, of the 3900 block of South Lake Park Avenue, were charged with first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. Both men are expected in Bond Court Tuesday morning.
Since her death, Hadiya has become a national symbol of senseless violence.
The charges come two days after Mrs. Obama flew in to attend Hadiya’s South Side funeral. Hadiya, a baton-twirling majorette at King College Prep, had performed with the school band at festivities surrounding the president’s inauguration in the nation’s capital a week before she was gunned down less than a mile from the Obama family’s Kenwood home.
The Nissan Sentra allegedly used in the getaway was pulled over in a traffic stop two days before Hadiya was shot. Information recorded in that stop first led detectives to zero in on the pair about a week after the murder, McCarthy said.
Ward offered no resistance when he was arrested. Williams attempted to flee but was caught, police said.
Shortly after the arrests at 67th and Martin Luther King Drive, detectives began summoning witnesses to see if they could identify the men in lineups, a process that continued Monday evening as the 48-hour window in which the two must be charged or released from custody was closing.
For Danetria Hutson, 15, a school pal who’d gathered with Hadiya when she was shot, the charges will help bring closure. “I’ve been having nightmares and been paranoid these men were going to come get me,” said Hutson, whose boot was grazed by a bullet during the shooting. “I’m really happy,” she said.
After praising his men, McCarthy, lauded the Pendleton family.
“They have a strength that makes us strong ,” McCarthy said.
Hours after the two were taken into custody, Emanuel called Hadiya’s mother to let her know about the development.
On the afternoon of Jan. 29, a gunman jumped a fence and fired into a group of King College Prep students who had gathered under a canopy at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park in the 4400 block of South Oakenwald to get out the rain after finishing exams at their nearby school.
“This incident did not have to occur,” said McCarthy who argued for stricter mandatory minimum sentencing laws for gun offenses. McCarthy said Ward was arrested in 2011 for unlawful use of a fiream and pleaded guilty, for which he was sentenced to two years of probation. Ward was on probation when he allegedly shot Hadiya.
President Obama, who sent the Pendleton family a handwritten condolence note, is expected in Chicago Friday to discuss gun violence and other issues.
Hadiya dreamed of being an attorney and was planning a summer trip to France.
Contributing: Frank Main, Michael Sneed