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Pendleton's Mother: 'It's My Job' To Keep Talking


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Just ahead, President Obama will be speaking on gun violence in Chicago tomorrow. Some feel this visit is long overdue. We'll speak with two young people who have been working to get the president to come to Chicago. We'll ask them why and what they hope to hear from him in just a few minutes.

But, first, we'd like to continue our conversation with Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton. She's the mother of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at the president's inaugural parade just last month and was later shot and killed in broad daylight on Chicago's south side.

What would you like to see happen now? I noted that, as we are speaking today, earlier today, you've been visiting with and appearing with members of Congress, like, for example, Elizabeth Esty who represents Newtown, Connecticut in Congress, which was the scene of that terrible shooting in December where 20 children were killed, along with six adults. And then Mike Thompson of California, who's the chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce, along with the Children's Defense Fund. And a group that came together in the wake of the Newtown shooting called A Million Moms for Gun Control.

Are there specific things that you would want to see happen in the wake of Hadiya's death and the death of these other children?

CLEOPATRA COWLEY-PENDLETON: Well, it's interesting. That's a very good question. I still have a lot more reading to do, a lot more researching to do, but you made me think of this as you went down your list. I learned of the Sandy Hook murders while at work, too, and I stood up and I was just so outdone, you know, given the ages of those children and defenseless children, you know. Just overwhelmed by that and my heart just went out and I said, oh, my goodness.

Little did I know, the same place I found out about Sandy Hook was the same place I found out about my baby and, even though everyone was where they were supposed to be, when those parents dropped their children off at school, they expected to pick them up.

And, you know, before this happened to my child, I said, I can't imagine dropping my baby off at school and not being able to pick her up and then, unfortunately, I said goodbye to my teenager for the day and it was for a lifetime.

MARTIN: As you know, of course, as the president talked about in his speech, there's a big discussion now about what should happen now and I know you said that, you know, that politics and things like that is not your main interest. But did you have a specific opinion about what you would like to see happen after this or was it more that you just want people to think about it and take it seriously?

COWLEY-PENDLETON: Well, right now, I'm in the think-about-it-take-it-seriously phase. You know, use common sense. Definitely change the law so that we stop focusing on, quote, unquote, "the good guy" more and they ought to start thinking about the penalties for those that are disobeying the law. What can we do? What can be implemented or put in place to make someone just think twice? It has to be something and there has to be someone out there that's been doing this way longer than my few little weeks, you know, that has an answer or that has the compromise that's necessary to make the changes that are needed.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask what you know about the two young men who've been arrested for shooting your daughter. One person is 18.

COWLEY-PENDLETON: Eighteen. The other's 20.

MARTIN: And one is 20 and I just wonder if you have some thoughts about that. What would stop this?

COWLEY-PENDLETON: I don't know. Short of maybe creating things to educate our children, you know, maybe some additional classes in schools or things that they can get something to feed their moral fiber while in school instead of at home. I mean, you know, most things start at home and then you go to school and you learn something else there, too. Sometimes, people get more out of school than they do at home.

You know, we need to reevaluate a lot, a lot of what is being provided to the children need to be reevaluated. And, you know, I don't have a lot of information about the two gentlemen that have been charged with my daughter's murder. I got that information, you know, while in D.C. and I haven't had an opportunity. It's been a whirlwind, so I haven't had an opportunity to fully read up about the two gentlemen and, you know, so unfortunately I can't give you a whole lot of...

MARTIN: No, no, it's fine. No, no, it's fine.

COWLEY-PENDLETON: ...information around that area.

MARTIN: I'm just thinking they're going to go away for a long time.

COWLEY-PENDLETON: I do pray they do. I pray they're the right two gentlemen and that they get their just dues. You know, it's unfortunate that I'll have to spend my money caring for them for as long as they're in prison, but given the fact that there is no longer a death penalty or anything like that in Illinois, I mean, I don't wish that upon anyone, but you know, it makes you think some things when it's your baby and something this awful happens.

But I will say, like I said before, shame on you. You know, shame on you. It's really, really an awful thing. This really has been a devastating blow to my family and I understand that their family may be hurting, too, but they hurt differently than I do and I want them to consider that. You know, it's one thing to be affected because someone does something to you. It's another thing to be affected because someone has done something and so it's two totally separate pains. It's a pain nonetheless because I'm sure there's a mother on the other side that's hurting. Well, I would hope that there would be a mother that's hurting over there, but I do also hope that justice is served and what's coming to them, they get.

MARTIN: Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton is the mother of Hadiya Pendleton and she was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios during her visit to Washington. She was a guest, along with her husband, at President Obama's State of the Union address. She sat with the first lady.

Thank you so much for joining us and my very best wishes to you, to your husband, to your son and to the rest of your family and grace and peace to you.

COWLEY-PENDLETON: Thank you for having me. Thank you. Much appreciated. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.