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Hadiya's mom: State of the Union will be 'bittersweet'

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Cleopatra Cowley, arriving with her son Nathaniel for the wake of her 15-year-old daughter Hadiya Pendleton.

It was an invitation she wishes she had no reason to accept.

The mother of Chicago gun-violence victim Hadiya Pendleton will be in the audience for Tuesday night's State of the Union address in Washington, D.C. — and she is expecting a flood of mixed emotions.

"It's bittersweet," Cleopatra Cowley said. “Because it’s as a result of losing my daughter, but it’s also exciting to have an opportunity like this.”  

Her presence in the House of Representatives chamber as President Obama delivers his annual address to the country will be a poignant reminder of the toll of gun violence in America.

Cowley — who was invited as a guest of the first lady, according to White House aides — said she will be listening to the speech with an open mind.

“I really just want to hear what he has to say,” she said. “Then I can formulate my opinion.”

But there's no question she's looking for action.

“My baby deserves a revolution and I pray that what happened her to her will have an impact,” she said.

Cowley’s 15-year-old daughter was shot dead two weeks ago while hanging out with friends in a park near school, just days after she returned from Washington, where her marching band competed for a chance to be in Obama's inauguration parade.

On Monday night, just after Cowley landed in Washington, Chicago police announced they had charged Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20 -- putting a smile on the mom's face.

"I'm ecstatic," she said, adding that she hopes Ward and Williams are locked up for many years.

“Look at what they've done to me and my family. We put so much work into raising my daughter. We had hopes. My son no longer has a big sister. They deserve to feel something that is remotely comparable,” Cowley said. “But my daughter is dead and even if they are rotting in jail, they will still be alive.”

On Tuesday, Ward and Williams were ordered held without bond on first-degree murder charges. Prosecutors said Ward, the alleged trigger-man, confessed that the shooting was a case of mistaken identity and that Pendleton was "just there."

In the days since the shooting, her daughter has become a face of the national debate over guns and a symbol of Chicago's stubborn murder rate. The first lady was among hundreds at her funeral Saturday.

“That was amazing,” Cowley said.

“My daughter really wanted to perform directly in front of the president and first lady and didn’t have the opportunity. Having the first lady at her homegoing was like Hadiya having an opportunity to perform because of all the friends and family who gave feedback about her.”

She said she also appreciated Michelle Obama’s low profile at the funeral.

“She didn’t have a desire to have it be about her. She wanted to attend as a mom,” Cowley said.

Before the big speech, Cowley and her husband, Nate Pendleton, attended a hearing on gun safety called by Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin.

Related:

‘Flashpoint: Guns in America’: An NBC News special report

How to watch the State of the Union with NBC News

 

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