First lady Michelle Obama told young friends of slain teen Hadiya Pendleton that they need to "stay strong" and look forward to their bright futures, students said.
Danyia Bell, left, 16, and Artureana Terrell, 16, react as they read a program for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton outside the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church after the service, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Chicago. Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries including first lady Michelle Obama packed the funeral service Saturday for a Chicago teen whose killing catapulted her into the nation's debate over gun violence. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The first lady met privately with students, friends and family before the funeral for Hadiya, the 15-year-old King College Prep student who was fatally shot blocks from the school Jan. 29.
"She was trying to give us encouragement, things to be looking forward to...going to college, making something of ourselves," said King sophomore Kalyn Jones, who shared memories of Hadiya during the service.
"She told us, if she wanted to be anywhere in the world, it was here," said Tomás Friehs about his meeting with Michelle.
Tomás said the first lady told them to "hang on" and "stay strong."
"It's difficult to deal with something like this when you're young," he said outside Greater Harvest Baptist Church after the service.
As Hadiya became the young face of gun violence across the country, her funeral attracted many people who didn't have a direct connection to the girl.
Hundreds huddled in line well before the scheduled 9 a.m. wake Saturday to try to make it into the church, which seats about 1,000, and an overflow room, where the service was televised.
Raydell Lacey, a Bronzeville resident, didn't know Hadiya but related with pain of the slain teen's mother.
Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton said during the service, "You don't know how hard this is. And for those of you who know how hard this is, I'm sorry."
Lacey's 21-year-old daughter, Elonda, was murdered nearly 20 years ago in Iowa, and seeing Cleopatra speak "opened old wounds" for the mother.
"There's no way that we should be burying our children," she said, wearing a shirt with the words "Not before my parents" written across it. "In my 57 years I've never seen so many people burying their children."
Source: DNA Info | Kyla Gardner