More than 3,000 members from the Muslim community in Stafford in the US state of Texas and Houston area attended the funeral of Sabika Sheikh, the Pakistani exchange student killed in the deadly May 18 mass shooting at a high school, according to American media reports.
The solemn ceremony took place on Sunday afternoon at an Islamic center in Stafford, which is not far from Santa Fe High School, where the massacre took place.
A number of Santa Fe students attended to pay respect to their classmate who was only with them for a semester but left quite an impression.
Her host mother here talked about a shawl given to her by Sabika on Mother’s Day, which was handmade in Pakistan, the reports said.
Local dignitaries honored her life, from Mayor Sylvester Turner to Congresswoman Shelia Jackson-Lee.
Congressman Al Green presented a boxed American flag with an inscription for her family to Consul General of Pakistan in Houston Aisha Farooqui. It will be presented to her family in Pakistan.
As she did not have family members in Texas to help organize the service, the Islamic Society for Greater Houston planned and organized the funeral, according to reports.
“She doesn’t have any family here, but she has all of us and this whole community that is mourning,” said M.J. Khan, the Pakistani president of the society. “We are all there to be her family.”
Sabika had been staying with a host family in the Santa Fe area. Her host father, Jason Cogburn, said Sabika and his family learned from each other, and his family even fasted with her during Ramadan.
“We loved her and she loved us,” he was quoted as saying. “She will be very missed, but she will always be loved.”
Sabika, 17, was among eight students and two teachers who were killed when a 17-year-old shooter identified as Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire with a shotgun and a handgun before surrendering to police.
Her funeral was the first one for any of those killed in the shooting.
The girls’ father, Abdul Aziz Sheikh, said at the family home in Karachi that “we are still in a state of denial. It is like a nightmare.”
She was studying in the United States under the State Department’s Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme, which provides scholarships for students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend an academic year in the United States.
Her father said Sabika had dreamed of working for Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
He added she was expected to return to Karachi next month for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The Islamic Society called the shooting “an act of terror” and said such events “remind us as to what world we live in, where the sanctity of life is not valued.”
The society said it has also offered to help with the transportation of student’s body back to Pakistan, where her family will also hold a service.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner cited Sabika’s desire to be a diplomat as he mourned the student.
“Even though after her death, she will continue to be a diplomat. Even in her death, she is pulling the relationships between Pakistan and the United States, specifically the Houston area, even closer, ” he said.
Sabika’s body will be flown to Karachi today for a final farewell with her family there.