The sickening violence at the Peshawar school has not only claimed 141 innocent lives but also left deep psychological scars on the survivors. Aamir Ali, a second year student, lost 10 of his classmates in the blink of an eye.
“I was sitting in the corridor [of the school] with 10 of my classmates when we heard gunshots. We ran towards our classroom but the attackers chased us down. They told us to ‘recite the kalma’ before opening fire,” a visibly shaken Ali said, adding that only he survived the massacre.
Other survivors also recalled how the militants went from classroom to classroom, shooting children and staff randomly.
“We were in a careers guidance session in the school auditorium when we heard gunshots,” ninth-grader Kashan told The Express Tribune. “The sound of gunfire came closer and became louder and then suddenly the door behind us was kicked down and two militants started firing indiscriminately.”
Chaos ensued and the last thing Kashan could recall was his classmates falling to the ground. Kashan survived with injuries to his feet.
Shahrukh Khan, 16, who was also in the auditorium, said that four gunmen wearing paramilitary uniforms burst in. “Someone screamed at us to get down and hide below the desks,” he said, adding that the gunmen shouted a slogan before opening fire.
“Then one of them shouted: ‘There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them’,” Shahrukh told AFP from his bed at the Lady Reading Hospital. “I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.”
Shahrukh said he felt searing pain as he was shot in both his legs just below the knee. He decided to play dead, adding: “I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream.
“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.”
As his father, a shopkeeper, comforted him in his blood-soaked bed, Shahrukh recalled: “The men left after some time and I stayed there for a few minutes. Then I tried to get up but fell to the ground 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,” he said. “She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.” It was not immediately clear how the female employee’s body caught fire, though her remains were also later seen by an AFP reporter in a hospital mortuary.
Khalid Khan, 13, told Reuters that he and his class mates were in a first aid lesson in the main hall when two clean-shaven armed men wearing white clothes and black jackets entered the room.
“They opened fire at the students and then went out. The army doctor and soldiers managed to escape and we locked the doors from inside,” he said. “But very soon they came, broke the doors and entered and again started firing.”
He said there were around 150 students in the hall around the time of the attack. “They killed most of my class mates and then I didn’t know what happened as I was brought to the hospital,” said Khan, breaking down in sobs.
Another student, Jalal Ahmed, 15, could hardly speak, choking with tears. “I am a biochemistry student and I was attending a lecture in our main hall. There are five doors in the hall.
After some time we heard someone kicking the back doors. There were gunshots but our teacher told us to be quiet and calmed us down. “Then the men came with big guns.” Jalal started to cry. Standing next to his bed, his father, Mushtaq Ahmed, said: “He keeps screaming: ‘take me home, take me home, they will come back and kill me’.”
2nd year student Ahsan Mukhtar recalled that when the firing started their teacher made the entire class crouch and move towards the end of the classroom. “After an hour when the firing relatively subsided, army commandos came and rescued us,” he added.
Another student said that army troops came to rescue them during a lull in the firing. “When we were coming out of the class we saw dead bodies of our friends lying in the corridors. They were bleeding. Some were shot three times, some four times,” he added. “The men rampaged through classrooms, firing indiscriminately at the staff and students.”
Distraught parents thronged the LHR, crying uncontrollably as children’s bodies arrived, their school uniforms drenched in blood. Irshadah Bibi, 40, whose 12-year-old son was among the dead threw herself against an ambulance. “O God, why did you snatch away my son? What is the sin of my child and all these children?” she wept.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2014.