The funeral for Hadiya Pendleton on Saturday was a celebration of her life, just as her parents had wanted. But along with those moments of joyful remembrance, there was bitter awareness of the street violence that took her away.
In the front row, just a few steps from Hadiya's silver casket, first lady Michelle Obama sat with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and other elected officials who, like President Barack Obama, have made gun control the centerpiece of their campaigns to end the violence.
Throughout the program, relatives and friends made it clear that this would not be a day to talk about the politics of guns, it would be a day to talk about Hadiya.
"Don't let this turn into a political thing. Keep it personal," said Damon Stewart, Hadiya's godfather. "A lot of politicians will try to wield it as a sword. They want to use it for votes."
Hadiya, a high school honor student whose King College Prep majorette squad participated in inaugural festivities last month near Washington, D.C., was killed Jan. 29 in Harsh Park, about a mile from the Obamas' Kenwood home.
The senseless killing of a bright teen with a promising future quickly incited public outrage that made its way from the streets of the South Side all the way to the White House.
Hadiya's death occurred during the deadliest January for Chicago in a decade, and it came on the heels of a homicide total last year that was the highest since 2008. The first lady's attendance at Saturday's funeral placed Chicago even further into the spotlight of a national debate over gun violence that has polarized Congress and forced the president to take his gun control initiatives on the road to garner more public support.
Neither the first lady nor elected officials gave remarks during the program. Only the friends and relatives who knew her best were allowed to speak. Nearly every one of them spoke of the violence and how it had taken the lives of too many young people, not just in Chicago but across the country.
For more than three hours, Hadiya's friends and relatives paid tribute to the young woman they referred to in the service as "the light." They talked about her love for Chinese food and Fig Newtons and how she was prone to forget her majorette baton and even her performance wig, but never her lip gloss, which she wore all the time.
They talked about how she loved to laugh and was never serious, until it came to her school work. Her 10-year-old brother, Nathaniel Jr., used the description "goofy." One friend said that even after death, Hadiya would always be with them, "whispering the answers to us in chemistry."
More than 1,000 people packed the Greater Harvest Baptist Church on South State Street. Another 200 filled an overflow room. And hundreds more stood outside in freezing weather for hours, unable to get inside.
Some who waited in line didn't know the Pendletons personally, but they felt a connection to the teenager's death.
Some young people who said they went to school with Hadiya weren't able to get in. Only students wearing green wristbands and relatives and friends wearing orange ones were guaranteed admission through a special security line.
Tammie Spraggins, 15, sobbed on a friend's shoulder outside the church, explaining that she went to middle school with Hadiya and wanted to see her friend one last time.
"They're letting in people and adults who didn't even know her," Spraggins said through tears. "I can't even say goodbye to my friend one last time."
Earlier this week, the family had expressed concerns that heavy security would make it difficult for Hadiya's friends to express their farewells. But the first lady and other officials entered the church barely noticed, and most left quietly without speaking publicly.
Prior to the service, the first lady met privately with about 30 of Hadiya's friends and classmates, according to the White House. She also met privately with members of Hadiya's family.
A handwritten note offering condolences from the president was printed on the glossy funeral program containing poems, tributes and more than 50 pictures of Hadiya from birth to her teen years.
Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, expressed her appreciation to the first lady, the mayor and the governor after going to the microphone unexpectedly. She said the outpouring of support from across the city and the nation has been amazing.
"All y'all don't know me and our sense of humor," she said, laughing and occasionally pausing to cry. "Honoring Hadiya and having a smile on my face may be offensive to the masses. I'm not worried about her soul, I know where she is."