Revenge was the motive that brought alleged gang members Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, to Harsh Park in Chicago on Jan. 29, where they mistakenly believed that 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton’s companion was one of the guys who had shot Williams last July, according to Chicago police. So Ward and Williams allegedly opened fire on the group of students, killing Hadiya and wounding two others — and putting Chicago in the middle of a gun control debate raging across the country.
“The offenders had it all wrong. 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 lifestyle,” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference at police headquarters, where he was joined by two dozen detectives and gang investigators who worked the case.
Chicago’s place in the debate will be demonstrated tonight, when Hadiya’s father and mother, Nathaniel Pendleton and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, will attend the State of the Union address as guests of President Obama.
Just hours after Hadiya’s funeral service on Saturday, attended by first lady Michelle Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the two suspects were arrested while on their way to a suburban strip club to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
“I don’t even know what to say about that,” McCarthy said. “They were going out to celebrate at a strip club.”
Ward allegedly confessed to police that it was a case of mistaken identity. He and Williams were charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm.
Hadiya’s dad told the Chicago Tribune Monday night that news of the charges marked the first time since Hadiya’s killing that he had a “legitimate” smile on his face.
“I’m ecstatic that they found the two guys,” he told the Tribune.
According to McCarthy, Ward said he and Williams got out of their car, crept up on the group and opened fire, and Williams drove them away. McCarthy said Williams did not confess and police have not recovered a weapon. Both are due in bond court today.
The arrests brought up two issues that are significant in the gun control debate: the ineffectiveness of weapons convictions and the strong prohibition in many black communities against “snitching.”
At the time of Hadiya’s slaying, Ward was on probation for a weapons conviction but he avoided jail time because of the absence of mandatory minimum sentences, McCarthy said.
“This incident did not have to occur,” McCarthy said. “And if mandatory minimums existed in the state of Illinois, Michael Ward would not have been on the street to commit this heinous act… This has to stop. Gun offenders have to do significant jail time. Criminals have to be held accountable. And there has to be a certainty of punishment when we arrest somebody with an illegal firearm.”
When Williams was shot on July 11 at 39th Street and South Lake Park Avenue, police actually arrested the suspected perpetrator. But the alleged gunman was let go after Williams refused to cooperate, McCarthy said. So instead of having that suspect go through the system by cooperating with police, Williams chose to let him back on the street — apparently so he could settle the matter himself, exhibiting a complete lack of faith in the criminal justice system.
After Hadiya’s death, a $40,000 reward was on the table, but McCarthy said it was “meticulous” detective work that led to the arrests. Two days before the killing, police had stopped Ward in his Nissan Sentra as part of a routine gang investigation, McCarthy said. After witnesses in the Hadiya shooting described a similar car driving away from the shooting scene, detectives had the lead they needed.
“While we received a lot of tips in this particular case and the community really stepped up and tried to help us, I’m sad to point out that we did not get our target audience to step up,” the superintendent said.
McCarthy said that with surveillance and interviews — including several interviews with parolees in the neighborhood, who are required to cooperate — detectives were able to focus in on Ward and Williams. On Saturday night, the police stopped them near 67th Street and South King Drive as they departed in a caravan of cars headed to the strip club in Harvey.
Hadiya’s friend Danetria Hutson, 15, who held Hadiya in her arms after she was shot, said she and others in the group have had nightmares since the shooting.
She also said they were afraid to hang out at parks.
“A lot of us were actually paranoid because the guys were still out there,” Hutson told the Tribune. “They knew where we went to school.”