The Texas community rocked by Friday’s mass school shooting that killed eight students and two teachers came together to celebrate the life of Sabika Sheikh, a 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student who had been studying in the U.S. through a State Department-sponsored program.
Mourners, including her host family, the mayor of Houston and Santa Fe High School classmates, gathered at a local mosque on Sunday for the first funeral for those who were slain.
“I always told her, ‘Sabika, you have a warrior’s heart,’” Joleen Cogburn, Sheikh’s host mother, tearfully told the crowd. Her host father, Jason Cogburn, told mourners how much they loved and cared for Sabika.
Just weeks from completing her school year and returning home, Sabika had dreams of one day working as a diplomat to help her country, her father Aziz Sheikh told Reuters. He spoke of how grateful she was to be studying in America.
“Sabika’s case should become an example to change the gun laws,” her father added. “I want this to become a base on which the people over there can stand and pass a law to deal with this. I’ll do whatever I can.”
He learned of her death from turning on the television after iftar, the meal Muslims eat to break the daily Ramadan fast, he told The Associated Press. He had been calling and messaging her without a reply.
The assumption that life is America is safe and secure is clearly untrue, he said. Attacks in the U.S., he noted, are “rampant.”
Abdul Khatri, one of the mosque’s worshippers, agreed. “People come here because they are told there is peace here,” he told The Washington Post. “You have the right to be protected here. It’s why I came. But to have this happen not in India or Pakistan, but here? We have gotten off track. And it’s been going on too long.”
Other local congregations paid their respects to school shooting victims on Sunday as well. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) attended morning prayers at a Baptist church near Santa Fe High school, during which the pastor, the Rev. Jerl Watkins, blamed the shooting on a Godless, technology-obsessed society.
“It seems to me, since the 1960s in this country, we’ve begun to think technology and other things can replace our God, and we’ve taken God out of the schools, and social media has taken togetherness out of the family,” Watkins said. “Many of these video games and movies our children are exposed to on a daily basis is all about thrill and killing and destruction. We’ve slaughtered millions of unborn children for the sake of convenience, and we twisted the sanctity of morality.”
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said he plans to pay for all 10 funerals, describing the massacre as “absolutely horrific.”
Sabika’s body will be flown to Pakistan for a traditional burial.
The investigation of the shooter’s motivation continues. The governor said the suspect wrote in a journal about carrying out a shooting and then committing suicide.