Islamabad, Pakistan – Sabika Sheikh, a 17-year-old Pakistani student on a foreign exchange programme in the United States, was among those killed in the Sante Fe school shooting, her family and the programme have confirmed.
Sheikh was among at least 10 schoolchildren killed when a gunman opened fire at the Sante Fe High School, about 50km southeast of Houston, on Friday morning.
A 17-year-old boy, identified by police as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, has been taken into custody following the attack, the 22nd school shooting in the United States this year.
Sheikh, 17, hailed from the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, a sprawling metropolis of more than 18 million people that is the largest city in the country.
“She was extraordinary, genius, and talented,” Abdul Aziz, her father, told reporters at their home in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighbourhood.
“My daughter never came fourth [in class] – only ever first, second or third.
“At such a young age she would say such huge things, that sometimes I couldn’t believe it. Even now I cannot believe that my daughter is gone,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion.
Aziz said that he attempted to call his daughter immediately after hearing news of the shooting, but she did not pick up her cellphone.
“I called [the foreign exchange programme’s] coordinator there, I spoke to them and they told me […] about three hours later, at 11:00pm [18:00 GMT, about five hours after the shooting], they confirmed that she was dead.”
Bridge between cultures
Sheikh was visiting the United States under the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme, a State Department funded that provides scholarships to Pakistani students to attend high school in the United States for a full academic year.
Students live with host families in the city they are placed in, and are immersed in scholastic and cultural programmes.
Since 2003, more than 1,100 Pakistani high school students have studied in the United States under the YES programme, according to the organisations website.
Megan Lysaght, manager of YES, wrote to students in the programme confirming that Sheikh was killed in the shooting.
“It is with the greatest sadness in my heart that I need to inform you that one of our YES students, Sabika Sheikh from Pakistan, was killed today in the school shooting in Sante Fe, Texas,” she wrote in an email.
“Please know that the YES program is devastated by this loss and we will remember Sabika and her families in our thoughts and prayers.”
David Hale, the US ambassador to Pakistan, said embassy staff were “devastated” by the news, and called Sheikh’s family to express 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 honor her memory,” he said, according to a statement.