A School Shooting & Story About Interfaith Friendship

The May 2019 issue of Texas Monthly featured a touching interfaith story surrounding the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting.

The Santa Fe High School shooting was carried about by a 17-year-old student at the school. Thirteen people were wounded in the attack, ten were killed. Among the fatalities was Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan.

Sabika arrived in Texas as part of the YES exchange program through the U.S. State Department. The program provides scholarships for students from countries with a significant Muslim population to spend one academic year in the U.S.

The news of Sabika’s death was devastating for the Pakistani community. The Pakistani community has always valued an American education, and the chance to send a young daughter abroad is a dream come true. But it also takes an incredible act of faith to let a child into the world to explore it.

Sabika was killed three weeks before she was set to fly back home to celebrate the holidays with her family. Her death, like all other deaths from senseless acts of violence, is heartbreaking.

What happened to Sabika inbetween the time she arrived in America and before the school shooting is a story that was not well known. That piece of the story which is a celebration of her life, her education and the opportunity she had to make new friends and discover a new culture is the missing piece filled in by Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth.

Beyond the bleakness of a school shooting, Hollandsworth tells the story of an interfaith friendship between Sabika, a Muslim foreign exchange student, and an evangelical Christian girl.

Jaelyn Cogburn was then a 15-year-old freshman, Sabika’s junior by two years. Like Sabika, Jaelyn was new to the school. Typically homeschooled with a Bible-based curriculum, Hollandsworth relays how, that year, Jaelyn felt like God put it in her heart to go to Santa Fe High.

Three months into their remarkable friendship, Sabika requested her scholarship program allow her to shift from living with a Muslim-American host family to a non-Muslim host family so she could fully experience life in America. On December 21, 2018, Sabika spent her first night with her new host family: the Cogburns.

Hollandsworth exquisitely narrates the story of a fast and most unlikely friendship between the two girls from opposite corners of the earth. He paints a portrait of Sabika that gives her life beyond the headlines, diving deep into the world she came from and sharing the journey of her unfolding life in Texas. He shows us what is possible when we approach people with openness and respect, as Jaelyn and her family did for Sabika.


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