By Renita D. Young
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Two reputed members of a Chicago street gang were charged on Monday in the murder of a 15-year-old girl who was gunned down days after performing with her high school band at inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama, police said.
The slaying of Hadiya Pendleton on January 29, eight days after the majorette appeared at an inauguration event in Washington, highlighted a rash of deadly shootings in Chicago and became a rallying cry for advocates for tougher gun control nationally.
Two men identified by police as gang members, Micheail Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, both of Chicago, were each charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the shooting, which also left two other teens wounded.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Ward pulled the trigger and that Williams was believed to have driven the getaway car. "They thought the group they shot into were members of a rival gang," McCarthy said.
Police said the arrests stemmed from a description of the vehicle that matched a car police had stopped two days earlier with Ward in it. McCarthy said the "big break" in the case came from parolee interviews.
Williams and Ward were seeking revenge on a rival gang that shot and wounded Williams in July, McCarthy said. They fired into a crowd at a public park, killing Pendleton as she and some friends were seeking shelter there from a rainstorm near their school, he said.
The Obama family's Chicago home is about a mile from the park where Pendleton, a sophomore at Martin Luther King Jr. College Prep High School, was slain.
Ward, who police say confessed to the shooting, had previously been arrested in 2011 on charges of unlawful use of a firearm and was sentenced to two years of probation.
McCarthy said if mandatory minimum sentences for unlawful firearm use had existed in the state of Illinois, "Micheail 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," McCarthy said. "And there has to be a certainty of punishment when we arrest somebody with an illegal firearm."
First lady Michelle Obama attended Pendleton's funeral on Saturday, along with other dignitaries including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Congressmen Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, both Chicago Democrats.
The two suspects in Pendleton's slaying were on their way to a birthday party at a suburban strip club when they were arrested on Saturday night, hours after the victim's funeral, police said.
Pendleton's parents, Cleopatra and Nathaniel, will attend Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, according to a White House official.
In recent weeks, the president has presented a number of proposals aimed at curtailing gun violence across the country.
(Reporting by Renita D. Young; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Greg McCune, Dan Grebler, Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)