By Jennifer Delgado, Bridget Doyle and Rosemary Regina Sobol, Chicago Tribune reporters
1:01 AM EST, February 1, 2013
As she and her high school classmates fled from the gunfire, Hadiya Pendleton screamed that she had been shot, fell to the ground, struggled to get up and fell again, according to her best friend.
The best friend and another girl scrambled to Pendleton's side, cradling her in their arms as others ran for help.
"I was holding her hand trying to talk her through it," her best friend told the Tribune on Thursday. "I was like, 'You're going to be fine, you're going to be OK.'"
But Hadiya, 15, died shortly after a bullet pierced her back Tuesday, igniting outrage over the senseless loss of another young victim of Chicago's out-of-control gun violence and leaving her friends staggered by the horrifying chain of events on what had been a carefree afternoon.
In the account that follows, the Tribune is not naming those who witnessed the shooting and its aftermath because the gunman is still at large.
On Tuesday afternoon, the mood outside King College Prep in North Kenwood was jubilant. The students at the elite high school had just finished final exams, classes had let out early and the winter weather was spectacular, tipping into the low 60s.
Hadiya and her best friend, both sophomores, headed toward a nearby Potbelly's, one of their favorite places to eat, the friend said. But on their way, at about 1:30 p.m., they ran into friends who invited them to Harsh Park, just a few blocks away from the school.
"We were like, 'OK, sure, who doesn't want to walk around outside when it's nice?'" Hadiya's best friend said.
As they walked, the group of about a dozen teens discussed which tests had been easy and which had been hard. Some were volleyball players from King and others went to another high school, Hadiya's friends said.
Once they reached the small, residential park, Hadiya and others headed to a playground where they swung in the warm air while chatting about their plans for the summer and their 16th birthdays. Hadiya's best friend said she and Hadiya had talked about a joint sweet 16 party and possibly wearing matching gold heels and colorful outfits to celebrate the occasion.
But then a sudden downpour drove the teens beneath a metal awning where Hadiya played "Misery Business" by the band Paramore on her cellphone and others tweeted and texted as they waited out the rain.
Minutes later, however, Hadiya's best friend said she saw a gun-wielding male scale the park fence and approach the group. She yelled a warning to her friends, but the gunman opened fire, spraying the teens with bullets as they ran.
Hadiya was struck in the back about 2:20 p.m. One teen suffered a graze wound to an ankle. And a 17-year-old junior at King was hit in the left leg below the calf, according to his mother, who said he was trying to protect his girlfriend.
The teen's mother said that her son, an Eagle Scout, didn't realize he had been shot. He felt a little sting in his leg before he looked down and saw blood.
A nurse who lived in the area and was leaving her home at the time of the shooting ran to the group, applied a makeshift tourniquet to the teen shot in the leg and called 911. The nurse instructed the others on how to take care of Hadiya.
In the meantime, another friend of Hadiya's ran to a nearby Subway restaurant, burst through the door and asked to borrow a man's phone to call 911.
But by then wailing police cars whizzed by toward the park, so she called her mom.
"I told her to stay put," her mother told the Tribune. "I can't even tell you, as a mother, what it's like to get that phone call. My goal was to get to my child."
The friend said that she and Hadiya met freshman year at a high school dance camp. The friend joined poms, while Hadiya became a majorette, traveling to Washington last month to perform in a competition with her squad during President Barack Obama's inauguration weekend.
The girls were nicknamed "twins" by classmates and teachers because of their similar appearance, the friend said. From haircut to smile to skin tone to personalities, the two were hard to tell apart, she said.
Weekend sleepovers, a love for reading and a similar goofiness kept the girls close, she said.
"Our freshman algebra teacher couldn't tell us apart, so he just joked and called us each 'twin,'" the friend said. "We always pretended to be sisters."
Police announced that the reward for the arrest and conviction for Hadiya's killer has been raised to $24,000. The money was raised by clergy and other community leaders. Superintendent Garry McCarthy said a lot of tips have been pouring in.
Police have described the gunman as an African-American male 18 or 19, 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-7, 140 to 150 pounds with a dark complexion. He was wearing a blue skullcap, a gray hooded sweatshirt and beige pants.
Police have stressed that the teens in Hadiya's group who had gathered in the park were not involved in gangs, but that they believe the gunman may have mistaken them for rival gang members.
While there haven't been any gang problems at the park, there has been an internal gang conflict brewing nearby among the Gangster Disciples, police said.
In addition to Hadiya's homicide, there have been two shootings about half a mile from Harsh Park in the first month of 2013, according to police records.
As emergency responders raced to the park Tuesday, the nurse kept pressure on the 17-year-old's leg while Hadiya's best friend felt for Hadiya's pulse.
She had lifted her friend's sweater and saw that she was shot in the back. Blood was everywhere.
Hadiya was mouthing words, seemingly trying to speak.
"She held my hand tighter and I was like, 'We love you, we love you, we love you,'" she said.
Tribune reporters Jeremy Gorner and Cynthia Dizikes contributed.
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