Local Pakistanis and faith groups mourning the 145 victims—132 of them children—of a Taliban school attack are planning a candlelight vigil in Mineola on Wednesday evening.
The brazen attack shocked the world on Tuesday as reports came in describing how ruthless Taliban gunman stormed the Army Public School and Degree College in Pashawar and indiscriminately sprayed bullets into uniformed children and their teachers.
“I could not focus since I heard the news,” said Isma Chaudhry, the president-elect of the Islamic Center of Long Island, who was raised in Lahore. “What is most shameful is that this is all done in the name of religion and these are acts beyond any explanation, beyond any sense, beyond any human understanding.”
Pakistani troops who responded to the school described a horrific scene of pools of blood and bullet-ridden bodies of lifeless children scattered on the floor. Some students recalled how the Taliban forced them to watch as their teacher was burned alive. None of the attackers survived the siege.
The tragedy shocked Pakistani-born Long Islanders who have been struggling to come to terms with the brutal terrorist attack.
“These were children,” Chaudhry added. “I have kids…I just cannot imagine such a horrific, heinous action toward anyone, especially kids.”
Bashir Qamar, founder of Pakistani American Community of Long Island, a cultural and social organization, said his group will mourn the dead at a candlelight vigil at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“We were in sudden shock,” he said. “We were speechless. It was such a sad and tragic incident.”
Qamar, who is from Karachi, said he was hoping that the Pakistani Army could put an end to the violence.
According to reports, the attack was in retaliation for a Pakistani military offensive against the military group on the Afghan border.
“There’s no justification, there is nothing,” added Chaudhry. “It’s something you cannot really comprehend.”
When she lived in Pakistan, Chaudhry said her family would travel to Pashawar often. She described it as a “major city” that is home to children who take pride in their education. For some Pakistani children, however, school is not an option because families cannot afford the cost of education, she said.
“It’s not something that comes in easy or is taken for granted,” she said. “You should see these kids the way they’re dressed up…because they have a lot of pride.”
Chaudhry spoke to friends and family back home shortly after the attack. Everyone is “weeping a loss,” she said.
She said interfaith groups from across the region have reached out to the ICLI and expressed deep sadness. An interfaith prayer service is expected to be held at the ICLI’s mosque in Westbury Wednesday afternoon to mourn the victims.
The devastating attack came less than a week after Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. Yousafzai survived a Taliban assassination attempt in Pakistan after she was targeted for her pro-education advocacy.
“I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold-blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us,” Yousafzai said in a statement. “Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this.”