School shooting victim’s mission: promote ‘mutual understanding’
In Pakistan’s bustling port city of Karachi, a family is in mourning.
On Friday, thousands of miles away in Texas, the eldest child of the house, 17- year-old exchange student Sabika Sheikh was one of 10 people killed in the Santa Fe High School shooting.
Ten months ago, Sabika had received a scholarship to visit the United States on a program funded by the State Department — an initiative called the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program.
One of the aims of YES is to create youth ambassadors to foster “mutual understanding and respect” between the United States and countries with significant Muslim populations.
Sabika’s joy at being shortlisted for the program is obvious in the video that she uploaded to Youtube. She sits in her room, wide-eyed and excited, saying that she was “over the moon” and “jumping like a madman”when she found out about her place on the shortlist. The pride on her parent’s faces is what made her call it “the best moment” of her life.
Now Sabika will never return to her home. She was among the 10 who died when police say 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire Friday on staff and students at Santa Fe High School. Pagourtzis is being held on charges of capital murder and aggravated assault of a public servant.
Her father, Aziz Sheikh, told CNN that his daughter “loved to read,” that she enjoyed studying US history “to learn from the best,” and that she wanted to grow up to become a diplomat to “make Pakistan proud.”
Her bookshelf is stuffed with Roald Dahl stories and copies of Khaled Hosseini’s books. Her diary lies untouched on her desk along with the scrapbook in which she doodled favorite quotes. Sabika’s sister pulls out the teenager’s favorite things, including a piece of paper on which Sabika has written in purple pen, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Ramadan in Pakistan is a festive month of fasting and feasting. Aziz Sheikh had tuned in to CNN soon after breaking the day’s fast. That was when he found out that it was his daughter’s school that was the scene of a shooting. He called his daughter, her friends and her host family — who then went to the hospital.
Close to three hours later, the host family called him back and he only heard tears on the other end. “I asked them to …. I asked them clearly to tell me … how is she?” he said. “They replied and said … ‘She is dead. She is gone.’ “
Extremism ‘not limited to one nation’
While Sabika’s father spoke to reporters downstairs, upstairs her mother was too grief-stricken to meet anyone.
She agreed to speak to CNN on condition of not being photographed. “Sabika became my friend, she would tell me that many of the kids at her school were lonely,” Farha Aziz Sheikh said.
“There had been a suicide earlier in the student community and that had really shaken Sabika, I didn’t think that I would lose my child so far away … I never thought.”
There has been outpouring of condolences from the US Embassy and the State Department. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited the family and released a statement saying that “extremist activities are not limited to one nation or region alone. They are an international problem.”
When asked about gun control and the ongoing investigation into the reasons behind the attack, Aziz Sheikh said he “doesn’t care, I haven’t touched this topic, I am focused on my Sabika, on bringing her home to Pakistan.”
Sabika hadn’t been home in 10 months, she was due to fly back in time for the Muslim festival of Eid and had been keeping a countdown with her mother “just 19 more days days mama!” she had said when last hanging up the phone.
She was fasting on the day that she was killed.
After a service in Texas, the teenager’s body will arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday. She will be buried on the same day.