The Pakistani exchange student killed in the Texas high-school mass shooting was due to return to her home country next month for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, her father says.
The father of Sabika Sheikh on May 19 told reporters in her hometown of Karachi that the 17-year-old was proud to be studying in the United States as an exchange student in a program organized by the U.S. State Department.
The Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program provides scholarships for students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend an academic year in the United States. Participants generally live with American families.
The father, businessman Abdul Aziz Sheikh, said he learned of the shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas when he turned on the TV after breaking his Ramadan fast.
He said he immediately called his daughter and her friends but did not receive any response.
He eventually learned of his daughter’s fate when he reached the exchange program by phone -- hearing that she was among the 10 people killed at the high school southeast of Houston.
The tearful father told the Associated Press that Sabika, the eldest of four children, was planning to return to Karachi next month for Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
He added that he thought his daughter would be safe in the United States.
"She was extraordinary, genius, and talented," her father told reporters at their home.
"My daughter never came fourth [in class] - only ever first, second, or third.
"At such a young age, she would say such huge things, that sometimes I couldn't believe it. Even now I cannot believe that my daughter is gone," he added.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on May 19 that he was sending "my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sabika Sheikh, who was killed in the tragic shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, yesterday."
The statement added that Sheikh was "in the United States on the State Department-sponsored Youth Exchange and Study program, helping to build ties between the United States and her native Pakistan."
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale also offered condolences.
"This morning, I called the family of Sabika Sheikh and offered my deepest condolences. All of us at the U.S. Mission in Pakistan are devastated by and mourn her loss. We will honor her memory," he said.
Imran Khan, a candidate to become Pakistan’s next prime minister, wrote on Twitter that he was “Shocked & saddened by the tragic death of Sabika Sheikh our Pakistani Honour Roll exchange student in the Santa Fe school shooting in USA.”
"My prayers go to the family -- May Allah give them the strength to cope with such an irreparable loss," Khan added.
A 17-year-old student has been charged with capital murder and is being held without bail over the mass shooting.
Authorities said Dimitrios Pagourtzis burst into a classroom at the high school around 8 a.m. on May 18 and opened fire, killing eight students and two teachers and injuring at least 13 others.
Pagourtzis could face the death penalty if found guilty.
The shooting once again raised the issue of gun control in the United States -- a matter that has become a major talking point in the country after 17 people were killed in February during a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, and The International News