Sunday 22 September 2019

Pakistan exchange student among those killed in US school shooting

Sabika Sheikh died when Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, went on a rampage at his high school in Santa Fe, Texas.

Abdul Aziz Sheikh shows a picture of his daughter in Karachi (Fareed Khan/AP)
Abdul Aziz Sheikh shows a picture of his daughter in Karachi (Fareed Khan/AP)

By Adil Jawad, Associated Press

A Pakistani businessman says his family is living “a nightmare” after his daughter was among 10 students killed in a US school shooting.

Abdul Aziz Sheikh and his wife have been consoled by friends, relatives and local politicians in their Karachi home since it was confirmed that daughter Sabika, an 18-year-old exchange student, was among those who died when Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, went on a rampage at his high school in Santa Fe, Texas.

Mr Sheikh, in his mid-40s, said he cannot believe what has happened to his daughter. “We are still in a state of denial. We can’t believe it. It’s like a nightmare,” he told The Associated Press. Sabika was the eldest of his four children.

She left Pakistan in August of last year and was expected to return home in a few weeks for Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Mr Sheikh said he first found out about the tragedy when he sat down to watch TV after iftar, the fast-breaking meal. He saw a report on a local news channel and switched frantically between other channels to watch the live coverage of the aftermath.

“I called her but she did not reply. I kept calling and sending her messages,” Mr Sheikh said, “My daughter always replies. Or at least sends a message saying she’ll call back soon. But yesterday, that didn’t happen.”

Abdul Aziz Sheikh comforts an elderly woman upon the news his daughter has died in a US school shooting (Fareed Khan/AP)

He called her friends but they were not responding either. It was only when he got in touch with the exchange programme that he realised the bad news.

Megan Lysaght, manager of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study Abroad programme (YES), would later send a letter to students in the project confirming that Sabika was killed in the shooting.

“Please know that the YES programme is devastated by this loss and we will remember Sabika and her families in our thoughts and prayers,” Ms Lysaght wrote. She said the programme would be holding a moment of silence for the girl.

Mr Sheikh said his daughter was a hard-working and accomplished student who aspired to work in civil service, hoping one day to join Pakistan’s Foreign Office.

He thought his daughter would be safe in the US. “There is a general impression here that the life is safe and secure in America, but this is not the case. I have noted the number of attacks carried out this year (in American schools). But here there was no incident expect for one, at an army school. But in America they are rampant.”

He said US authorities should thoroughly investigate the incident and that he hoped it would not discourage other foreign pupils studying abroad.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered his condolences in a statement on Saturday, saying that “Sabika’s death and that of the other victims is heartbreaking and will be mourned deeply both here in the United States, and in Pakistan”.

PA Media

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