WASHINGTON — Among the students killed when a gunman opened fire at a Texas high school on Friday was an 18-year-old exchange student from Pakistan.
Sabika Sheikh’s tragic death has sent shock waves through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study Abroad program, which brought her to the United States.
Isra Naseem Cheema, 16, is a fellow exchange student from Pakistan and friend of Sheikh. Cheema said she still is trying to come to terms with how her friend’s life was cut tragically short.
“She’s one of the sweetest persons ever and her name is mentioned in such a violent act. It’s just crazy,” Cheema said.
Cheema is staying with a family in Rockville, Maryland, and attending Richard Montgomery High School as a junior. She met Sheikh last fall and said the two have remained close ever since.
“Wherever she would go, she would just make everyone fall in love with her smile and like her jokes,” said Cheema.
Sheikh was one of ten people killed on Friday when police say Dimitrios Pagourtzis entered Santa Fe High School and opened fire. More than a dozen others inside the school were injured.
Cheema said she first realized that someone in the program had been killed when she received an email that went out to the 75 students in the program announcing what took place.
“I just still couldn’t believe it, so one of my friends called me and she began crying on the phone. And I just broke down completely,” she said.
On Twitter, the exchange program said it’s devastated and mourns the loss of Sheikh.
“YES works to create mutual understanding and we will remember Sabika as we continue that work, with hope for a peaceful future,” the tweet said.
Cheema said Sheikh’s loss has hit the exchange program very hard, since the participants have become a close-knit family. Cheema said Sheikh was set to return to Pakistan in the coming days. They were making plans to meet later this year when Cheema was set to return.
“We said we have to keep the legacy forward, you know. We went to America, now we have to go home and tell people back home about America, about how amazing a country it is. And she is not going to be a part of that now,” Cheema said.
Coming to America, Cheema said the students have had discussions about past school shootings in the country but never thought an incident like this would hit so close to home for them.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen. But I think the best part about us all is that we’re really strong right now and really supporting each other,” Cheema said.
She said while she and the other exchange students are rattled by what took place, they know the gunman doesn’t represent what the United States is all about.
“We all come here (knowing) that’s not America. That’s obviously part of America, but we focus on the other part: people who are fighting, the people who are demanding justice.
© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.