CHICAGO (AP) — Police said Monday that prosecutors were close to filing murder charges against two suspected gang members in last month's fatal shooting of a Chicago girl whose death has become a rallying cry in the national debate over gun control.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference that murder charges were imminent against the 18- and 20-year-old men, who were arrested Sunday, but he declined to discuss the evidence against them or other details of the investigation.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he had told Hadiya Pendleton's parents about the latest developments in the investigation into the Jan. 29 killing of their 15-year-old daughter, who performed as a majorette at the presidential inauguration ceremonies in Washington nine days earlier.
First lady Michelle Obama met with Hadiya's family Saturday and escorted her mother to Hadiya's casket at the teen's packed funeral. On Monday, the White House confirmed that Hadiya's parents would sit with the first lady during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Hadiya was huddled with friends under a canopy and taking cover from the rain when someone ran up and opened fire on them before jumping in a waiting car and fleeing. Investigators believe the attacker mistook someone in the group for a rival gang member.
The honors student's slaying was one of more than 40 in Chicago last month, which was the city's deadliest January in more than a decade. Homicides topped 500 last year for the first time since 2008, stoking residents' concerns about gun violence and leading the police department to put more officers on the street and to focus more on combatting gangs.
Just as the December killing of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., brought renewed scrutiny of the nation's gun laws, the death of the popular Chicago teen who was just talking to friends has cast Chicago's gun violence problem in a new light.
Emanuel seemed to make just that point.
"The only time when the gun issue ever gets affected is when Newtown happens," he said. "What happens in urban areas around the country too often ... gets put to the side."
He said that while it's not wrong that massacres stir such debate, what happens on the streets of Chicago and in other urban areas "gets put in a different value system."
"These are our kids," he said, his voice rising. "These are our children."
Emanuel, McCarthy and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced Monday that they will push for tougher gun laws that would increase the minimum sentences for those convicted of gun laws and require offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. They say the law now allows offenders to be released after serving no more than half their sentences and sometimes obtain their release after a matter of weeks. Emanuel said he has been busy talking to state lawmakers about sponsoring the legislation.
To underscore the dangers that releasing such offenders so quickly, McCarthy brought photographs of men who were either arrested on murder charges or who were homicide victims themselves while they were on parole, often just months after they were convicted of gun charges.
"The gun laws are not working," said Alvarez. "They're not deterring gangbangers. We're not seeing gang member going to prison for long enough sentences."
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