Gun Violence Victims' Families, Survivors Head to State of the Union

The first lady and dozens of House Democrats invited the families of gun violence victims to attend the speech with them

The guest lists for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address gave an early glimpse of the issues that might dominate his speech Tuesday night — and of the progressive tilt to his second-term agenda.

The parents of a slain Chicago teen, a Mexican DREAM Act student and 102-year-old Desiline Victor, whose commitment to voting became a symbol of American resistance to new Republican-led restrictions, were all set to accompany first lady Michelle Obama to the speech.

For full U.S. news and politics coverage, visit

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nate Pendleton, whose 15-year-old daughter Hadiya Pendleton's shooting death days after she performed at President Obama's inauguration captured national headlines, were attending the speech just after two men were charged with their daughter's killing. Police said her confessed killer had told them she wasn't the intended target; members of a rival gang were.

"It's bittersweet," Cowley-Pendleton said of the invitation from the first lady, who attended her daughter's funeral over the weekend. "Because it’s as a result of losing my daughter, but it’s also exciting to have an opportunity like this."

Also set to attend with Michelle Obama are two U.S. Marines. One of them, Sgt. Carlos Evans, was wounded in Afghanistan, where Obama will announce Tuesday that the U.S. will halve its troop presence within the year. The other, Sgt. Sheena Adams, headed an elite group of women Marines and participated in active combat — something the Pentagon has just opened to women.

Others in the first lady's box at the speech will be representatives of American business big and small — one a microbrewery entrepreneur, the other Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Despite the broad spectrum of political issues the first lady's guest list suggested her husband would touch upon in his speech, the guest lists of dozens of House Democrats showed a coordinated focus on one of Obama's top second-term goals: stronger gun regulation.

House Minority Nancy Pelosi was bringing with her Tuesday night a fourth-grader from Newtown, Conn., who had written to her in support of gun control, as well as the girl's mother. Pelosi's House colleagues were bringing a teacher who was wounded in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the parents of a first-grader killed there and the brother of a teacher who died protecting her students there.

Two Colorado Democrats were set to bring the parents of a teen victim of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre, and an Arizona congresswoman was bringing the mother of a victim killed in the Tucson shooting that wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. Giffords herself was set to attend the speech as a guest of Rep. Ron Barber, her former chief of staff who now holds her former seat.

On the other side of the issue, Republican Rep. Steve Stockman has invited rocker and steadfast gun control opponent Ted Nugent. The Secret Service investigated Nugent last year after comments he made comparing Democrats to coyotes that should be shot.

House Speaker John Boehner's guest list ignored the brewing Capitol Hill gun control battle entirely. Instead, it highlighted education reform and job opportunities, including as it did two school voucher recipients in the fourth grade at a Washington, D.C., Catholic school, an award-winning woman executive and a disabled former bat boy for the Cincinnati Reds.

But even as he declined to enter the gun control fray with his State of the Union guest list, Boehner made clear in remarks Tuesday that he wouldn't shy away from a fiscal fight with Obama in his second term.

"To do the kind of heavy lifting that needs to be done, I don't think he's got the guts to do it," he told reporters in Washington. He went to clarify that the Obama "doesn't have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party."

Contact Us