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Family Of Pakistani Exchange Student Killed In Shooting Says She Wanted To Be A Diplomat


One of the 10 victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting was a Pakistani exchange student. She came from a country where militants have attacked schools and killed students, so her killing in the U.S. shocked many people in Pakistan. NPR's Diaa Hadid brings us this report from Islamabad.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Sabika Sheikh was in Santa Fe through a state department exchange student program. It's meant to foster better understanding of Muslim culture. This is her father speaking to Geo, a local TV station.


ABDUL AZIZ SHEIKH: Extraordinary, genius, talented.

HADID: Her father, Abdul Aziz, says she was extraordinary. She was wiser than her years. He can't believe she's gone. Sabika's great uncle, Abdul Jalil Albasit, said she wanted to be a diplomat, and her family was confident that she'd get there one day. He spoke from the family's home in Karachi, a sprawling port city.

ABDUL JALIL ALBASIT: Obviously this is a terrible situation for our entire family. We were expecting her return on ninth of June, and we were expecting that she will return alive.

HADID: They were expecting her to return home alive. He says her ticket was ready. She wanted to be with her family. They were going to celebrate a Muslim holiday together. Instead, Sabika was the victim of a school shooting. Her uncle says her parents were aware of the risks. But they never imagined it would happen to their own daughter.

ALBASIT: We were confident that Sabika will be very much safe there during her entire tenure.

HADID: That's partly because Pakistanis have lived through years of deadly violence. Militants have killed thousands of people, and they've targeted schools. The worst incident was in 2014 when Taliban gunmen stormed a school run by the Pakistani military. They killed over a hundred children, so parents here constantly calculate the risk of sending their children to school. And Sabika's uncle says despite the risks, the U.S. felt safe. He says if any of Sabika's three younger siblings want to study in the U.S., they'll go.

ALBASIT: If any children of our family will get any such opportunity, we should allow him or her to proceed and do whatever he or she wanted to do.

HADID: In an upscale market in Islamabad, other Pakistanis echo those sentiments. This is Akbar Durrani. He works for the U.N. He knows how devastating a loss like this can be.

AKBAR DURRANI: I've actually lost someone in a terrorist attack, someone very close. So I know how it feels, and I know that it could be easily someone who's around you.

HADID: Still, he says, he never imagined a Pakistani student would be the victim of this in America.

DURRANI: It seemed like it wouldn't happen to people who go to the U.S. because we are a small population there. And - but this time around, it kind of hit home that, you know, it can happen to anyone.

HADID: Madiha Kausar-Butt was strolling through the market with her husband.

MADIHA KAUSAR-BUTT: In Pakistan, people are experiencing a lot of bomb attack, but what I have learned from this incident is that life is uncertain. Even in America, now you don't know what's going to happen next.

HADID: She says that the world just feels more dangerous. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.