“Governments should protect all our children.”
Relatives and residents carry the coffin of Sabika Sheikh. Photo by Imran Ali/AFP/Getty Images.
The Texas city of Santa Fe was stunned by a school shooting on May 18 that took 10 lives and injured over a dozen people. One of the fatalities was 17-year-old Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student who was part of a U.S. government-funded educational program.
Abdul Aziz Sheikh, Sabika’s father, was breaking his Ramadan fast thousands of miles away in Pakistan when he learned about the shooting on CNN.
“I started calling my daughter right away; she didn’t pick up the phone. I kept calling. Messaged her on WhatsApp — she doesn’t pick up ... This never happens,” Sheikh tells GOOD.
On May 23 at Sabika’s funeral in Karachi, Sheikh’s shoulder became a warm pillow as people hugged him, often crying. Thousands showed up to mourn her death and share their love with the family, including friends, cousins, and strangers who had heard about it on the news.
Sheikh says Sabika was one of the smartest members of her family. She wanted to be a diplomat and help peace efforts between U.S. and Pakistan.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]What kind of world is this when teenagers turn on other teenagers?[/quote]
“We were expecting her return. Her ticket was ready; she was going to be with her family. We were confident Sabika [would] return,” Sabika’s uncle Abdul Jalil Sheikh tells GOOD.
“What kind of world is this when teenagers turn on other teenagers? Who taught them all this? To shoot and kill teenagers whom they should be befriending instead,” Ahmed Ali, who went to Sabika’s funeral in Karachi, tells GOOD. Ali, a father of two teenagers, says the teenage shooter was also a child whom he thinks was misled.
After a few tears, Ali pauses and remarks, “What a young age to lose one’s innocence,” referring to both the teenage victims of the shooting and Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who confessed to the killings.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Peace comes from understanding, seeing, experiencing, [and] diversity.[/quote]
The name “Sabika” means “reliability” or “a bar of gold.” Her friends back in Pakistan, who were looking forward to hearing stories from her on her return in less than a month, are shocked. “The whole world just feels more dangerous now,” says one of her friends who asked to remain anonymous.
Sabika comes from a country where Islamic militants have shot students in schools and where schools are often targets of terror attacks. For the Sheikh family, to pursue a dream to bring peace goes just that much deeper.
Like many Pakistanis, Sabika’s parents believed in sending their children to countries with high educational standards in order to bring back to Pakistan a better perspective of the world. “Peace comes from understanding, seeing, experiencing, [and] diversity,” her uncle says.
Worshippers pray in Stafford, Texas, during Sabika’s funeral service. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.
In a speech Sabika gave at a retreat for foreign exchange students in North Carolina in early 2018, she said she “prayed every night to wake up to a world of peace.” She wanted to effect positive change in her society, her friends tell GOOD. She also hoped to use her experience and knowledge gained in America to bring more humanity to Pakistanis’ understanding of life in the U.S.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Governments should protect all our children.[/quote]
Pakistanis who have lived through years of violence have long regarded America as a safe country, so school shootings in the U.S. have been shocking to many parents in Pakistan. Despite the risks, though, Sabika’s family felt secure in Sabika studying abroad. Her uncle says they would have never imagined their own daughter being in the crosshairs of a school shooter.
“Even in America, if terrorism is possible, it means we should do something about it. Not as one country, but as one people. Safety is uncertain to all of our lives,” says Amber Naureen, a working mother in Karachi who’s been shaken by the rise in school shootings in the U.S. “We should not protect our own tribes but [also] protect each other from the what is clearly a psychological failure of societies. Governments should protect all our children.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Even in America, if terrorism is possible, it means we should do something about it.[/quote]
Jason Cogburn, her host father, attended the ceremony and offered this sentiment: “When she started Ramadan and started fasting, my family did that with her because we did things together. Because, really, the root of our issue is love.”