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MARY MITCHELL: Friend sets record straight: Hadiya was not left alone to die

A teen shows her boot thwas hit by shrapnel.  |  Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

A teen shows her boot that was hit by shrapnel. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 2, 2013 11:51AM



Hadiya Pendleton was not left alone.

When an unidentified gunman fired into a crowd of King College Prep students who had gathered in a neighborhood park Tuesday, about a dozen students ran for their lives.

One bullet caught 15-year-old Hadiya in the back, causing her death a short while later.

Another grazed the boot of a 16-year-old classmate and lodged in her boyfriend’s ankle. Another unidentified 16-year-old boy also was wounded and was in good condition.

Contrary to earlier reports, Hadiya, who had just attended presidential inauguration festivities a week earlier, was not left mortally wounded while her classmates ran off.

A 15-year-old classmate who was with the group described the chaotic scene that unfolded when, for no apparent reason, a gunman jumped a fence and opened fire on the students then sped away in a waiting car.

“We were under a little tent thing and a man came up and shot at us about five times,” the girl told me in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. (Because the shooter is still at large, I am not identifying the girl, or her mother, by name.)

According to the girl, the group had been in the park for about 20 minutes and had sought shelter under a canopy when gunfire erupted.

“We all started running and Hadiya fell down. We were running at about the same pace, and Hadiya said: ‘I think I got shot,’ and slowed, then fell.”

The girl’s boyfriend pushed her out of the way and a bullet grazed her boot and struck his ankle. The boyfriend, who was taken from the scene in an ambulance, was treated at the hospital and released.

Hadiya’s classmate said a nurse who lived in one of the houses nearby heard the gunshots and came to the scene.

“She told me to hold Hadiya’s hand, and I had her head in my lap,” the girl told me.

Although earlier reports suggested that most of the teens in the group were gang members, that is not the case.

At a news conference attended by the slain girl’s parents and other relatives at the park on Wednesday, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Hadiya had no arrest record or affiliation with any gang or criminal activity.

“In fact, every indication points to the fact that none of the individuals who were here in the group were involved with any sort of criminal activity,” McCarthy said. “What we believe happened is that this is some sort of territory that some gang might call their own. As a result of that, we believe that somebody mistaking a group that was hanging out here of innocent children returned with a firearm and fired into the crowd killing Hadiya.”

McCarthy said the group immediately dispersed and overnight detectives were “busy scrambling” trying to identify witnesses.

The 15-year-old girl said she was questioned by police at the hospital.

“I just feel that people are getting the story wrong and making other people blame themselves, and it was not even their fault,” she said.

The girl’s mother pointed out that all of the teens in the park were “honor school kids,” and it was “devastating” to see them initially portrayed as “gang members.”

“This is a selective enrollment school. You have to place high to get into this school. These kids are bright kids,” she said. “It was totally wrong for these kids to be called gang members.”

Hadiya and the other wounded students were innocent victims in the same way that the 20 children in Newtown, Conn., were innocent victims.

But unfortunately, some of us don’t see it that way. Frankly, some of the emails I received about this tragedy were shameful.

Instead of blaming the shooter, some of you leaped at the chance to blame Hadiya for hanging out with gang-bangers who didn’t stick around to cooperate with police.

In reality, these were clean-cut teens who were simply trying to unwind in a public park after a grueling day of final exams.

Hadiya’s classmates aren’t the bad guys.

They didn’t create a world where someone with evil intentions can walk into a park in the middle of the afternoon and kill at will.

They are the heroes.

What does that make us?



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