Islamabad: When the parents of 17-year-old Sabika Shaikh sent her for an exchange programme in the United States (US) they had little to worry about. Ten months later, their hopes of celebrating Eid with their daughter were dashed when they received the tragic news that she had been killed on Friday.
The young Pakistani student was one of 10 people killed when a teenage assailant armed with a shotgun and revolver opened fire at Santa Fe High School in the US state of Texas on Friday.
Sabika had been participating in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme in the US.
Abdul Aziz (right), Sabika’s father, prays with other mourners in Karachi. AFP
The teen, the eldest of three children, had been slated to return to Pakistan on June 9.
“We found out about the shooting from a local TV channel and tried, but failed to contact Sabika and her friends,” her grieving father Abdul Aziz said, adding that news of her death was confirmed by the YES programme coordinator and the Pakistan consulate in Houston “after a four- to five-hour delay”.
Equally devastated mourners and relatives swarmed Sabika’s home in Karachi on Saturday.
Her brother said the family had been preparing to throw her a grand homecoming party, while her tearful father described her as a brilliant student.
Abdul Aziz comforts an elderly woman at his home in Karachi. AP
“My daughter was extremely talented and she wanted to devote her life to Pakistan,” he told journalists.
Ansar Shaikh, Sabika’s uncle, described the Texas shooting as an act of terrorism and implored the US government to take action.
“I ask the American government to make sure weapons will not be easily available in your country to anybody. Please make sure this doesn’t happen again. It really hurts.”
George Lapadat, an exchange student from Romania who claimed to have been among Sabika’s friends, took to Facebook to express his grief at her death.
Sabika “came to the US to learn, to experience, to share and to bring back to her country all the knowledge she acquired during her exchange,” he said.
“She was young, vibrant, happy and super-excited to go back to her country. When she left for this trip, she was supposed to be gone for 10 months… but now she is gone forever,” he said.
Criticising America’s gun culture, Lapdat added: “If this [the shooting] is not enough to prove that something is wrong and something needs to change, I don’t know what else would.”
US Ambassador David Hale expressed regret at Sabika’s death and personally called he family to offer condolences.
“As an exchange student, Sabika was a youth ambassador, a bridge between our peoples and cultures. All of us at the US Mission in Pakistan are devastated by and mourn her loss. We will honour her memory,” the US Ambassador said in a message.
The Embassy of Pakistan in Washington confirmed the news on social media saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with Sabika’s family and friends.”
Aizaz Chaudhry, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, spoke to Abdul Aziz and expressed his heartfelt condolences over the tragic death of his daughter.
Aisha Farooqui, the consul-general at the Pakistani consulate in Houston, also expressed her grief over the tragic incident and said that the consul general in Houston had been in touch with Sabika’s family in Pakistan.
Earlier, Megan Lysaght, manager of the YES programme, had sent a letter to students in the programme confirming that Sabika had been 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,” Lysaght wrote.
Pakistani politicians also expressed their condolences alongside thousands of Pakistanis who took to social media to share their grief and anger.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman and former cricketer Imran Khan expressed his shock and grief at her death.
“Shocked and saddened by the tragic death of Sabika Shaikh, our Pakistani Honour Roll exchange student in the Santa Fe school shooting in USA. My prayers go to the family — May Allah give them the strength to cope with such an irreparable loss,” Khan tweeted.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also extended his sympathies to the family.
“Grieved to learn about the killing of students including a Pakistani exchange student, Sabika Shaikh, in an incident of shooting at a US school. My heart-felt sympathies to bereaved families,” he said on Twitter.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, noted that the growing trend of violence in American education institutions was alarming, adding that intolerance and violence were poisons for any society.