CHICAGO – Chicago police say they've been inundated with tips about the death of a 15-year-old girl who had just returned from performing at President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, but police, activists and ministers are still concerned that someone with valuable information might be holding out.
The reward for information about last week's slaying of Hadiya Pendleton has climbed to $40,000. But people may be afraid to come forward because they don't want to be thrust into a national media spotlight or because they are concerned for their own safety, police, activists and minister said Monday.
Hadiya, a drum majorette, was killed in a park about a mile from Obama's home on Chicago's South Side. Police say the shooter hopped a fence, ran at a group of about a dozen young people and opened fire, killing the girl. No arrests have been made.
"We've got a ton of tips," some of them from gang members, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference Monday. "Nothing at this point has panned out for us."
Still, McCarthy reiterated that a "no snitch code" in the community could be preventing people from providing police with tips.
Hadiya's death has brought renewed attention to Chicago's homicide rate. The nation's third-largest city just had its deadliest January in more than a decade. Chicago had 506 homicides last year, the most since 2008.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and prominent activist on the city's South Side, has angrily called out anyone who might be protecting the gunman. But Pfleger also acknowledged that people more reluctant to come forward with information about a slaying that has attracted so much attention.
"Because now it is such a national story I think they're afraid if they come forward and say something it will be on the world news," he said. "We have to let people know that they can come forward anonymously with the information, that they don't even have to contact the police but can contact us [community leaders] and their identity can be withheld."
People might also be afraid that stepping forward means standing up to gangs. While police said Hadiya was not involved with gangs, they say her death was gang related.
"People are afraid if they do [come forward], their family members or they themselves might be shot," said Tio Hardiman, of CeaseFire, a violence prevention group that interacts with Chicago gang members.
Investigators suspect the gunman may have opened fire on Hadiya and others taking cover from the rain at a park because he believed someone in the group was associated with a rival gang.
"It's always legitimate when you are talking about something of this magnitude, where people are shooting each other," McCarthy said. But the superintendent said he's confident the anger over the death of the teenager will win out.