Father remembers six-year-old’s murder like it was yesterday
Imagine being told your six-year-old child was yanked by her ponytail and shot in the head at point blank by terrorists.
This is the reality Altaf Hussain, an English teacher at Army Public School and a resident of Mansehra, has to live with.
Hussain was critically injured in the brutal APS attack, but his daughter Khaula never made it out alive.
It was her second day back to the APS Toddlers school, where she had enrolled last year.
“She had just finished pre-nursery. The day of the attack was her second day at APS Toddlers Academy (known as the toddlers section). I asked the section head to enroll her and she told me to fill out a form and bring two coloured pictures with it.”
He added, “I was taking Khaula to our colleague Farman Sahab in the computer lab to get her pictures taken when I first heard the firing.”
Hussain said at first he took it lightly. “I told everyone around me not to panic, that it was just another drill by our army. But then the bullets started landing in front of us. That’s when I saw our colleague Madam Farhat rushing towards us, telling us the school had been attacked.” Farhat told Hussain and others that the attackers were killing children inside the auditorium.
Hussain recalled asking Saadia, another English teacher who had recently joined, to protect Khaula. Saadia took Khaula and the children she was teaching inside the computer lab.
That is when Hussain rushed out to see what was happening.
“I saw three men, all armed with AK-47s. They fired at me but missed. Since I heard them speaking in Pashto, I told them to stop but they refused to listen; they fired and I was hit. When I gathered my senses after being shot, I rushed to a room, closed the door and stayed on the ground,” Hussain told The Express Tribune.
“My Khaula had been shot in the head along with Madam Sadia and the other children,” he added. “Later, an injured student told me one of the attackers held Khaula by her ponytail and the other one shot her in the head point blank.”
A family torn
Khaula was the third of his four children, two boys and two girls. She was also the only female child who was killed in the APS attack, said Hussain. His sons also study at APS but they were in the junior section, from where students were evacuated safely.
“We [APS attack victims] were treated with extraordinary kindness at LRH,” Hussain said. He spent two months at Lady Reading Hospital recovering from the wounds, and another two to get his injured kidneys treated.
Doctors from Combined Military Hospital wanted to shift Hussain to CMH but the LRH doctors insisted their cardiothoracic ward was better equipped than CMH. “I was treated in the elite Boltan block at LRH. The entire treatment, including medicines, was free,” said Hussain.
“One year has passed but every moment of joy brings mourning to our home; be it Eid or a birthday celebration or anything else. Khaula’s and the death of other innocent children continue to haunt us,” he added. But despite the tragedy that hit their home, the Hussains continue to send their children to APS even now.
Hussain was all praises for Madam Tahira Qazi. “We have been told she died trying to save the children. She had a phone in one hand, and with the other she was instructing others to take the students into different rooms,” he said, adding Qazi was a courageous woman.
Refuting the rumours that the attackers burnt female teachers alive, Hussain said no such thing happened. “But the excessive shooting might have caused fire since there were a lot of papers in the classrooms,” he said.
Hussain thought security forces and police did not act soon enough. The delay in response gave the attackers one full hour “to satisfy their blood lust”. He advocated for strict action against the terrorists responsible for the attack as he feared they could cause more damage.