In the morning hours, as a military-operated school in Peshawar was getting started and students in grades 1st through 10th were in their seats ready to learn, approximately 6 members of Tehreek-e-Taliban, a Pakistani militant group, entered the school and began shooting at random. Army commandos arrived quickly and exchanged fire with the group while armored personnel carriers were deployed around the school and a Pakistani military helicopter circled overhead. As ambulances began streaming to and from the school to area hospitals, it was soon revealed that the lives of 126 were claimed, (that number has jumped to 141) mostly students, by Mushtaq Ghani, information minister for the province.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif traveled to Peshawar to show his support for all involved. The responses are heart wrenching.
“My son was in uniform in the morning; he is in a casket now,” wailed Tahir Ali, parent of 14-year-old son Abdullah. “My son was my dream; my dream has been killed.”
One student was receiving first-aid instruction and training with a team of Pakistani army medics when the violence began. He said that nobody knew what was going on for a few seconds.
“Then I saw children falling down who were crying and screaming,” he said. “I learned later that I have got a bullet.”
Another student said that they locked their classroom door form the inside when they heard shooting, but the gunmen forced their way in and started shooting anyway.
Shahrukh Khan, age 16, said that he was in a career guidance session in the school auditorium when four gunmen burst in. The following account is devastating:
“Someone screamed at us to get down and hide below the desks,” said Khan, adding that the gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) before opening fire.
“Then, one of them [the gunmen] shouted, ‘There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them.’”
“I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me; this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.”
Khan felt a searing pain in both his legs, just below his knees.
“I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream,” he said while playing dead.
“The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.
“My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me. I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.
“The men left after some time and I stayed there for a few minutes. Then I tried to get up but fell to the group because of my wounds.
“When I crawled to the next room, it was horrible. I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire. She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned,” he said.
Khan crawled behind a door to hide, but lost consciousness.
“When I woke up, I was lying on the hospital bed,” he said.
After reading Khan’s recollection of his experience, I was literally sick to my stomach, even more sick when I read that this attack was retaliation for a major military offense in the region and the militants had been ordered to shoot older students.