“We are still in a state of denial. We can’t believe it. It’s like a nightmare,” Abdul Aziz Sheikh said from his home in the bustling metropolis of Karachi in Pakistan.
His daughter Sabika had dreamed of becoming a diplomat in Pakistan’s Foreign Office, and was a high school honour roll student, he told the Associated Press. So a stint as an exchange student in the U.S. made perfect sense.
After spending over nine months in Texas, 17-year-old Sabika was due to return to her hometown of Karachi in less than three weeks, just in time for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
But Sabika will now return home early — in a coffin. She’s one of the 10 victims of the latest school shooting in the U.S. in Santa Fe, Texas.
As news of Sabika’s death broke, a crowd of reporters gathered outside the family’s home in the middle-class Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighbourhood of Karachi, the world’s fourth-most populous city.
Inside the home, Abdul Aziz Sheikh, surrounded by mourning family and friends, fought back tears as he recounted his frantic efforts to get in touch with his daughter after hearing that there had been a shooting at Santa Fe High School.
Neither Sabika nor any of her friends returned his calls.
Eventually, someone from the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program reached out to him to confirm his worst fears.
The eldest of three siblings, Sabika had been looking forward to returning home to her family.
“She was loved and she loved everyone. She was all ready to return home,” younger brother Ali told Geo TV.
“She told me that in 20 days we will be together,” sister Soha, 9, told an L.A. Times reporter. “She had bought so many gifts for me.”
A widely-shared photo on social media showed a smiling Sabika wearing a T-shirt saying “Texas,” and standing in front of an engraved “Texas” sign.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his condolences for Sabika’s death in what was the 18th school shooting in the U.S. this year.
“Sabika was in the United States on the State Department-sponsored Youth Exchange and Study program, helping to build ties between the United States and her native Pakistan. 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,” read Pompeo’s statement.
As far as Sabika’s father is concerned, the tragedy shouldn’t stop other youngsters in Pakistan from pursuing an education abroad. But he and other family members say they wish the U.S. did more to restrict access to weapons to prevent other families from experiencing similar grief.
“One should not lose his heart by such kind of incidents. One should not stop going for education to the U.S. or U.K. or China or anywhere. One must go for education undeterred,” Abdul Aziz Sheikh told the Associated Press. “But controlling such incidents is the responsibility of the respective governments.”
WATCH: Full coverage of the Santa Fe school shooting
Sabika’s uncle described the shooting as an act of terrorism.
“I don’t blame the murder of my girl on American society but on that terrorism mindset that is there in all societies,” he told the L.A. Times. “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.”
— With files from the Associated Press