CHICAGO — Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries including first lady Michelle Obama packed the funeral Saturday for a Chicago honor student whose killing catapulted her into the nation's debate over gun violence.

Yet one speaker after another remembered 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton not so much as a symbol but as a best friend, an excellent student with dreams of going to college and a sometimes goofy girl with a bright smile and big personality. They said she was a typical teen who wanted to borrow her friends' clothes and who never left home without her lip gloss.

And to her mother, Pendleton was the daughter she tried to keep busy so she'd be beyond the reach of the seemingly endless gang violence in the nation's third-largest city.

"You don't know how hard this really is, and those of you who do know how hard this really is, I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Cleopatra Pendleton told the packed South Side church. "No mother, no father should ever have to experience this."

Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed Jan. 29 as she stood with friends at a park about a mile from President Barack Obama's Chicago home in the Kenwood neighborhood. Just days before, the band majorette was among the performers during events for Obama's inauguration. Police say Pendleton was an innocent victim in a gang-related shooting.

Michelle Obama met privately with the family and some of Pendleton's friends before the service.

Obama, who grew up on Chicago's South Side, then accompanied the girl's mother to the open casket at the front of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church. She put her arm around Cleopatra Pendleton and patted her back as the woman threw her head back and wailed.

Moments later, the hundreds in attendance rose to their feet to begin the service with a round of applause "to the strength of this family." The nearly four-hour funeral was punctuated with a choir singing hymns so triumphantly that at times the floor shook.

Some of Illinois' most recognizable politicians and clergy were in attendance, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

But Pendleton's family said they didn't want the day to be about politics.

None of the dignitaries spoke during the service. Instead, close friends, holding back tears, got up to remember her.

One said she felt Hadiya was "still here with us, whispering the answers in chemistry." Another said Pendleton always told her to do her best in school so they could go to college together. The captain of the King College Prep majorettes presented Cleopatra Pendleton with the girl's team jacket.

Still, the girl's death resonated with the city and beyond in a way other Chicago slayings have not.

Her godfather, Damon Stewart, said someone on Facebook had asked what made Pendleton's death more noteworthy than those of more than 40 people who had already been slain in Chicago this year – many without so much as a mention in local newspapers. The response, he said, was obvious to him.

"She's important because all those other people who died are important," Stewart said. "She's important because all of those lives and voices of those families who were ignored, she now speaks for them. ... I don't believe in coincidence. God needed an angel. God needed to send somebody for us to change."

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a prominent Chicago priest, said Pendleton was the face of an "epidemic of violence causing funeral processions around the country."

"Sisters and brothers, I beg you," he said. "We must become like Jesus. We must become the interrupters of funeral processions."

Police have said the shooting appears to be a case of mistaken identity involving gang members who believed the park, which is near Lake Michigan and north of the University of Chicago, was their territory. No charges have been filed.

Pendleton's death brought new attention to Chicago's homicide rate. It came in a January that was the city's deadliest in a decade. In 2012, Chicago recorded 506 homicides.

A glossy, eight-page funeral program included photos of Pendleton and details about her life, including her favorite foods – cheeseburgers, fig cookies, Chinese and ice cream – and the numerous school and church organizations she was involved in. The program also included a copy of a handwritten note from President Obama addressed to the girl's family.

"We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence," it said.

Other dignitaries at the service included Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett – all of whom are from Chicago.

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  • First lady Michelle Obama, front row, center, and other, listen as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013. Front row, from left are, Sgt. Sheena Adams, Nathanial Pendleton, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Mrs. Obama, Menchu Sanchez, Jill Biden, Kaitlin Roif and Alan Aleman.Second row, from from left are, Deb Carey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amanda McMillan, Lt. Brian Murphy, Marie Lopez Rogers and Bradley Henning. Third row, third from left are,Tracey Hepner, Haile Thomas, Lee Maxwell, Sgt. Carlos Evand and White House seniot adviser Valerie Jarrett, (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Michael Ward (left) and Kenneth Williams were charged Monday in the Jan. 29 shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

  • Cleopatra Pendleton

    Cleopatra Pendleton, left, is escorted to the gravesite of her daughter Hadiya Pendleton during funeral services at the Cedar Park Cemetery, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Calumet Park, Ill. Pendleton was killed on Jan. 29, when a gunman opened fire on her and some friends seeking shelter in a park from the rain about a mile from President Obama's Chicago home. First lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral with Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Nathaniel Pendleton Jr., right, is hugged as he is escorted to the gravesite of his sister Hadiya Pendleton during funeral services at the Cedar Park Cemetery, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Calumet Park, Ill. Pendleton was killed on Jan. 29, when a gunman opened fire on her and some friends seeking shelter in a park from the rain about a mile from President Obama's Chicago home. First lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral with Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Members of Chicago's King College Prep High School band and color guard lead the funeral procession of Hadiya Pendleton through the Cedar Park Cemetery during graveside ceremonies Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Calumet Park, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • The remains of Hadiya Pendleton are taken to her final resting place at the Cedar Park Cemetery Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Calumet Park, Ill. Pendleton was killed on Jan. 29, when a gunman opened fire on her and some friends seeking shelter in a park from the rain about a mile from President Obama's Chicago home. First lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral with Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Everett Collins, of Chicago, films the funeral procession of Hadiya Pendleton through the Cedar Park Cemetery during graveside ceremonies, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Calumet Park, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Danyia Bell, Artureana Terrell

    Danyia Bell, left, 16, and Artureana Terrell, 16, react as they read a program for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton outside the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church after the service, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries including first lady Michelle Obama packed the funeral service Saturday for a Chicago teen whose killing catapulted her into the nation's debate over gun violence. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • A mourner holds up a program for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, outside the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church during the funeral service of Hadiya Pendleton Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries including first lady Michelle Obama packed the funeral service Saturday for a Chicago teen whose killing catapulted her into the nation's debate over gun violence. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Nathaniel Pendleton, Cleopatra Pendleton

    Father Nathaniel Pendleton, left, his son Nathaniel Jr. and mother Cleopatra Pendleton, right, arrive for the funeral of their daughter and sister Hadiya Pendleton at the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. The shooting death of the 15-year-old honor student has drawn attention to the staggering gun violence in the nation's third-largest city. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Cleopatra Pendleton

    Cleopatra Pendleton, left, and her son Nathaniel Jr. arrive at the Calahan Funeral Home for the wake of Pendleton's daughter Hadiya Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Chicago. A White House official says Michelle Obama will attend Saturday's funeral for the 15-year-old Pendleton who was killed after returning home from performing during inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama. Hadiya was killed in a park close to the Obamas' home on Chicago's South Side. Police say a gunman hopped a fence and opened fire on a group of young people, killing the drum majorette. No arrests have been made. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Cleopatra Pendleton, Hadiya Pendleton

    Funeral Director Edward Calahan left, escorts Cleopatra Pendleton and her son Nathaniel Jr. inside the funeral home for the wake of Mrs. Pendleton's daughter Hadiya Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Chicago. A White House official says Michelle Obama will attend Saturday's funeral for the 15-year-old Pendleton who was killed after returning home from performing during inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama. Hadiya was killed in a park close to the Obamas' home on Chicago's South Side. Police say a gunman hopped a fence and opened fire on a group of young people, killing the drum majorette. No arrests have been made. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Kimberly Tate wipes a tear from her eyes after attending the wake for Hadiya Pendleton at the Calahan Funeral Home Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Chicago. A White House official says Michelle Obama will attend Saturday's funeral for the 15-year-old Pendleton who was killed after returning home from performing during inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama. Hadiya was killed in a park close to the Obamas' home on Chicago's South Side. Police say a gunman hopped a fence and opened fire on a group of young people, killing the drum majorette. No arrests have been made. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Tierra Woods, left, and Adriana Keith comfort each other after attending the wake of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton at the Calahan Funeral Home Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarette

    First lady Michelle Obama, left and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett arrive for the funeral for Hadiya Pendleton at the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. The shooting death of the 15-year-old honor student has drawn attention to the staggering gun violence in the nation's third-largest city. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Arne Duncan

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan arrives for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton at the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. The shooting death of the 15-year-old honor student has drawn attention to the staggering gun violence in the nation's third-largest city. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Hadiya Pendleton

    The remains of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton arrive at the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church for funeral services Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • A floral arrangement is delivered at the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral service of Hadiya Pendleton Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. The shooting death of the 15-year-old honor student has drawn attention to the staggering gun violence in the nation's third-largest city. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Mourners wait outside the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral service of Hadiya Pendleton Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. The shooting death of the 15-year-old honor student has drawn attention to the staggering gun violence in the nation's third-largest city. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Mourners line up outside the Calahan Funeral Home for the wake for Hadiya Pendleton Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Chicago. A White House official says Michelle Obama will attend Saturday's funeral for the 15-year-old Pendleton who was killed after returning home from performing during inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama. Hadiya was killed in a park close to the Obamas' home on Chicago's South Side. Police say a gunman hopped a fence and opened fire on a group of young people, killing the drum majorette. No arrests have been made. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Mourners arrive at the Calahan Funeral Home to pay their respects to Pendleton family for the death of their 15 year-old daughter Hadiya, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Chicago. A White House official says Michelle Obama will attend Saturday's funeral for the 15-year-old Pendleton who was killed after returning home from performing during inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama. Hadiya was killed in a park close to the Obamas' home on Chicago's South Side. Police say a gunman hopped a fence and opened fire on a group of young people, killing the drum majorette. No arrests have been made. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Protesters hold up copied photos of Hadiya Pendleton at the scene where she was killed during an anti-gun violence march and rally Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in Chicago. The mounting homicide toll in President Barack Obama’s hometown is giving ammunition to both sides in the nation’s debate about gun rights and safety. Chicago has some of the toughest gun restrictions in the nation, but the despite that, the relentless shootings have made it Newtown, Conn., in slow motion. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Friends, fellow students, and others hold a candlelight vigil at Harsh Park in memory of Hadiya Pendleton on February 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Pendleton, a fifteen-year-old high school honor student, was shot and killed while hanging out with friends on a rainy afternoon under a shelter in the park on January 29. A $40,000 reward has been raised to help find her killer. Pendleton was the 44th homicide recorded in Chicago for 2013. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Kimbrly Walker, right, stands with a group of young people during a candle light vigil, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, for Hadiya Pendleton who was killed Tuesday in Chicago. The mounting homicide toll in President Barack Obama’s hometown is giving ammunition to both sides in the nation’s debate about gun rights and safety. Chicago has some of the toughest gun restrictions in the nation, but the despite that, the relentless shootings have made it Newtown, Conn., in slow motion. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Andrew Holmes (C) hands out flyers offering a $40,000 reward for the arrest of the killer of Hadiya Pendleton February 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Hadiya Pendleton was a fifteen-year-old honor student at King School who was shot and killed while hanging out with friends on a rainy afternoon under a shelter in Harsh Park on January 29. Pendleton was the 44th homicide recorded in Chicago for 2013. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • This undated family photo provided by Damon Stewart shows 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton of Chicago. Pendleton was shot and killed Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her. Pendleton, who had performed in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, is the latest face on the ever-increasing homicide toll in the president's hometown. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Damon Stewart)

  • Cleopatra Pendleton cries as she talks with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy before a news conference seeking help from the public in solving the murder of Pendleton's daughter Hadiya Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in Chicago. Hadiya, 15, who had performed in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, was killed in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her. The city's 42nd slaying is part of Chicago's bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, right, offers the city's condolences to the Pendleton family, from left, Nathaniel Jr., Nathaniel Sr., and Cleopatra during a news conference seeking help from the public in solving the murder of Pendleton's daughter Hadiya Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in Chicago. Hadiya, 15, who had performed in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, was killed in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her. The city's 42nd slaying is part of Chicago's bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Father Michael Pfleger , left, consoles Cleopatra Pendleton during a news conference with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy seeking help from the public in solving the murder of Pendleton's daughter Hadiya Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in Chicago. Hadiya, 15, who had performed in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, was killed in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her. The city's 42nd slaying is part of Chicago's bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Chicago Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy comforts Jahlil Pettis at a neighborhood park where Jahlil's cousin Hadiya Pendleton was killed on January 30, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Fifteen-year-old Hadiya was shot and killed when a gunman opened fire in the park yesterday while she was hanging out with friends on the warm rainy afternoon under a shelter in the park. Hadiya was a majorette in her high school band and recently performed in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration. President Obama's Chicago home is less than a mile from the park where Hadiya was killed. Another person was wounded in the leg during the shooting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Police, community leaders and family members of Hadiya Pendleton gather for an event near the shelter at a neighborhood park where Hadiya was killed on January 30, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Fifteen-year-old Hadiya was shot and killed when a gunman opened fire in the park yesterday while she was hanging out with friends on the warm rainy afternoon under a shelter in the park. Hadiya was a majorette in her high school band and recently performed in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration. President Obama's Chicago home is less than a mile from the park where Hadiya was killed. Another person was wounded in the leg during the shooting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • A news conference seeking the public's assistance in finding the gunman who killed Hadiya Pendleton is staged just a few feet away from the shelter where Pendleton was shot and killed, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in Chicago. Hadiya, 15, who had performed in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, was killed in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her. The city's 42nd slaying is part of Chicago's bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Cleopatra Pendleton, center with red scarf, is escorted under the shelter where Pendleton's daughter Hadiya was shot and killed, during a news conference seeking the public's assistance in finding the gunman Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in Chicago. Hadiya, 15, who had performed in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, was killed in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her. The city's 42nd slaying is part of Chicago's bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


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