First lady to mourn slain teen

First lady Michelle Obama on Saturday plans to attend the funeral of a 15-year-old Chicago girl gunned down outside her school, a gesture both personal and political in nature.

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Hadiya Pendleton, the South Side teen who was shot a just over a mile from the Obamas' Chicago home, was a majorette in her high school's band and had performed just days before her death at the president's inauguration. Her death comes at a time of brutal violence in the president's own city — at least 42 people were murdered in January — and amid a sweeping national gun debate in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting.

The first lady's attendance is certain to elevate Pendleton's death in the national discussion over gun violence, and serve as part of the White House's efforts to promote a package of new gun controls debuted last month.

On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama's plan to go to the funeral "represents the feeling that the president and the first lady both have about what happened to her and the tragedy that it represents both in real concrete terms to her family but also symbolically because of the tragedy of gun violence that our country has to deal with all too often."

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former head of Chicago Public Schools, will also be in attendance.

The first lady's attendance at the funeral is the latest in White House outreach efforts to the victims of gun violence. President Obama sounded his call for new gun controls during the memorial service for those lost in the Newtown, Conn. shooting.

Since then, Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Richmond, Va. to met with officials who coordinated the response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. Earlier this week, President Obama traveled to Minneapolis to meet with local law enforcement officials and push lawmakers to institute universal background checks on firearm purchasers and ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The White House will intensify efforts next week, with the president expected to rally support for his gun-control initiatives in the State of the Union address. Biden will meet with law enforcement officials in Philadelphia on Monday, and Obama will posthumously award the Presidential Citizens Medal on Friday to the six teachers and administrators who died in December's elementary school shooting.

There's some indication that the White House's pressure could be working, with the Associated Press reporting Friday that a bipartisan group of lawmakers was coalescing around a plan that would expand background checks — a key tenant of the president's plan.

"We’ll get something, I hope. I’m praying for it,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told the news service.