Sabika Sheikh grew up in Pakistan – a country that is intimately familiar with deadly attacks on schools. Between 2007 and 2015, there were 867 attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan, according to the Global Terrorism Database.
But Sheikh was not killed by the Taliban. Instead, the teenage exchange student died at Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday, when Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old student armed with a shotgun and pistol, allegedly opened fire and killed 10 people before surrendering to police.
The Embassy of Pakistan confirmed her death on Friday evening. Another exchange student at the school, Sayyed Zaman Haider, said Sheikh was in the country through the State Department-funded Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program.
Sheikh had just about 20 days left in the country before the school year was due to wrap up. She planned to head home to Karachi for the summer. In a phone call with the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, the student’s father, Aziz Sheikh, called his daughter “the lifeline of our family,” and said her goal was to join Pakistan’s foreign service.
Sheikh’s family had sent her to an American school that thought it had done all that was necessary to prevent a deadly attack like the one Pagourtzis allegedly carried out. In the small town outside of Houston, there were armed police officers on campus, and an active-shooter plan was in place. Despite measures school officials took to keep students safe, the high school on Friday became the site of the nation’s fourth-deadliest school shooting.
In Pakistan, there are an estimated 25 million students out of school, Human Rights Watch says. In certain regions, the Taliban has repeatedly targeted schools and prevented young people – especially girls – from pursuing an education. The militant group’s war on education gained newfound notoriety when they targeted Malala Yousafzai, a young campaigner for girls’ education, and shot her in the head. She survived and in 2014 became the world’s youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In one of the Taliban’s deadliest attacks, militants killed 149 people, mostly children, at a military-run primary and secondary school in Peshawar in 2014. Earlier, after taking over parts of Swat Valley in 2007, the Taliban forced around 900 girls’ schools to close. Between there and other areas the group has attacked, hundreds of thousands of students have had to drop out of school.
Karachi, where Sheikh was from, is not entirely free from the threat of the group. In 2014, heavily armed gunmen attacked the city’s major international airport and killed dozens.
But despite any dangers they may have encountered, Sheikh’s family deeply prioritized their daughter’s education. Sheikh’s father told Al Jazeera that his daughter was “extraordinary, genius, and talented.”
“One should not lose his heart by such kind of incidents,” her father told the Associated Press. “One should not stop going for education to the U.S. or U.K. or China, or anywhere. One must go for education undeterred.”