Saturday May 19 2018
Web Desk

Pakistani student among 10 killed as gunman opens fire in Texas high school

Web Desk

SANTA FE: Ten people, mostly students, were killed when a teenage classmate armed with a shotgun and a revolver opened fire in a Texas high school on Friday, the latest deadly school shooting to hit the United States after the Florida massacre earlier this year.

Among those killed was Sabika Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student studying in the US facilitated by the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme.

The gunman — arrested on murder charges — was identified as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old junior at Santa Fe High School. He was being held on capital murder charges, meaning that he could face the death penalty.

Students informed authorities that a gunman — later identified by law enforcement agencies as Pagourtzis — opened fire in a classroom at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 AM CT (1300 GMT) on Friday and that they fled in panic after seeing classmates wounded and a fire alarm triggered a full evacuation.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said 10 people died and another 10 were wounded in "one of the most heinous attacks that we´ve ever seen in the history of Texas schools".

"Nothing can prepare a parent for the loss of a child," Abbott told reporters in Santa Fe, located about 30 miles (50 kilometres) southeast of Houston. 

Emergency crews gather in the parking lot of Santa Fe High School — where at least eight students were killed — in Santa Fe, Texas, US, May 18, 2018. AFP/Daniel Kramer

In a letter sent to the other YES programme students, Megan Lysaght, the program manager (Inbound) at American Councils for International Education, confirmed Sabika Sheikh's death: "It is with [the] greatest sadness in my heart that I need to inform you that one of our YES students, Sabika Sheikh of Pakistan, was killed today in the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

"Please know that the YES program is devastated by this loss and we will remember Sabika and her families in our thoughts and prayers. We will have a moment of silence in her memory today."

Lysaght also informed other YES programme students that help and emotional support were available through coordinators and host families, as well as "Religious Advisors".

The Pakistan Embassy in Washington, DC, tweeted confirmation that Sabika Sheikh was among the deceased.

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, expressed heartfelt condolences for the victims of the tragic incident and said his thoughts and prayers are with Sabika's family and friends. 

Speaking to Geo News in Washington, DC, Ambassador Chaudhry expressed regret and sadness at the tragedy and said the embassy was cooperating with Sabika's family at this time of grief.

He assured that all arrangements are being made to send her body to Pakistan at the earliest. 

Consul General at Pakistan consulate in Houston, Aisha Farooqui told Geo News that the dispatch of the body may be delayed due to the weekend but all measures were being taken to ensure it is sent by Monday.

Earlier, Ariel Russell, a fellow YES programme student, tweeted the news of Sabika's death.

The shooting was the latest in a long series of deadly ones at US schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

'Sabika was going to return home next month'

A resident of Karachi, Sabika Sheikh — killed Friday in the Santa Fe high school shooting — was the eldest of three sisters. She was studying in the US under the YES programme since August 2017 and was due to return to Pakistan next month.

"Sabika was going to come home on June 9," her grieving father told Geo News, adding that the family received the shocking news about her death after iftar on Friday night.

"It is still so very hard to believe that [Sabika is dead]," he said, adding that his daughter was "a very obedient child".

When asked what he would say about governmental action and terrorist acts, he said: "[Such] terrorist attacks can happen anywhere and they need to be condemned."

"She [was loved] and she loved everyone. She was all ready to return home," said Sabika's brother.

'Suspect wanted to commit suicide'

Dimitrios Pagourtzis — the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, US — as shown in a booking photo at the Galveston County Jail, released by the Galveston County Sheriff's Office on May 18, 2018 (L) and in an undated picture obtained from social media (R), released on May 18, 2018. Courtesy Galveston County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office identified Pagourtzis and said he had been charged with capital murder in a post on its Facebook page. More charges could follow.

Speaking to reporters before the teen was identified, Abbott told reporters that the suspect had used a shotgun and a .38 revolver taken from his father in the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a US public school.

“Not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting,” Abbott said, citing a police review of the suspect’s journals.

“He didn’t have the courage to commit suicide.”

Two other people are in custody, Abbott said.

Investigators are talking to the suspect, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said.

Abbott said that investigators had seen a T-shirt on the suspect’s Facebook page that read “Born to Kill.”

Explosive devices had also been found at the school, located about 48 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of Houston, and off campus, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted.

Police were searching two homes and a vehicle linked to the suspect, where they have found multiple homemade explosive devices, Abbott said.

‘The guy behind me was dead’

Courtney Marshall, a 15-year-old freshman at the school, said the gunman came into her art class shooting.

“I wanted to take care of my friends, but I knew I had to get out of there,” Marshall said, saying that she saw at least one person hit. “I knew the guy behind me was dead.”

Orlando Gonzalez said that his 16-year-old son Keaton, fled the attack, but one of his friends was shot and wounded.

“I was really worried, I didn’t know what was going on ... I almost couldn’t drive,” Gonzalez said. “I just imagine what he’s going through ... He’s still scared.”

The school has some 1,462 students, according to federal education data.

US President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre “absolutely horrific.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

While no major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets.

The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major US mass shootings.