What innocent-seeming picture is actually heartbreaking?

By | April 30, 2022

This picture was uploaded by Taha Munir Paracha, the boy on the left, to his Facebook account. It was immediately picked up by the media and widely circulated.

Why, one might wonder. After all, teens do upload pictures with friends all the time.

The heartbreaking reality is that the image was meant to be a contrast to this one:

This original picture was uploaded with the caption, “Friends uplift the soul”.

But then, why would they take a picture in the exact same positions, wearing the same clothes, but with two friends missing?

At 10 30 am on Tuesday, the 16th of December, 2014, it was just after recess in Army Public School, Peshawar, and students had gathered in the auditorium for a lecture on first aid. Others were in their classes as gunmen stormed the auditorium and began firing indiscriminately. It was later revealed that they did not intend to take any hostages – what they wanted was to kill as many children as possible. Students who tried to flee the auditorium were gunned down.

Below are snippets of what happened to a student, 15 year old Baqir Jaffri, after they heard the first two shots.

“Then we heard a third shot, and our principal, Madam Tahira Qazi, who was sitting in the front row, turned around and asked one of the teachers to lock the back door. I turned around to see Sir Javed walk up to the door, but before he could lock it, he was hit by two bullets that came through the glass. He fell down.”

At first, the gunman walking by the aisle where Baqir had taken cover did not see him, but he noticed his head when he turned around. The bullet grazed his forehead.

The gunman probably took me for dead and walked on down the aisle, shooting boys and teachers. I saw him shoot our teacher Ms Hafsa three times in the back of the head.

His mother, Fatima was a teacher at that school who didn’t make it out. His elder brother’s words on how he tried to search for his mother are just as gut wrenching.

I waited at the gate. I was asking every student that was coming out if he had seen her. But nobody said yes. I rang her number a hundred times but there was no response. I rang my father who said my brother was safe in the hospital but there was no news of Mama.

Then one of the boys told me he saw her running from the staff room to the auditorium when the firing broke out.

I knew then that she was running for my brother, who was in the auditorium. And that’s where she fell, because her handbag and mobile phone were found near the auditorium’s stairs.”

 believe this picture speaks for itself.

Similarly horrifying stories emerged in the aftermath of the attack. Apparently, students were lined up and asked which ones had parents in the military. Those who raised their hands were shot point blank. The principal, Ms Tahira Qazi, was approached by security forces twice, but she refused to leave the building, saying, “I will go with the last child.” She also tried to block the militants, saying, “I am their mother. Talk to me.” Her body was found in bushes outside the school after the attack.

An eighth-grader, Uzair Ali, tried to shield his friends by lying on top of them. His friends survived, but he didn’t. He was shot thirteen times. Fourteen year old Fahad Hussain was gunned down while holding a door open for his classmates to escape. The father of a victim said after the attack that the terrorists had undone his twenty years of efforts in raising his child in twenty minutes.

Six year old Khaula, pictured below, was the youngest victim.

Even at her age, she was passionate about the right of women to an education, and her insistence convinced her neighbour to send his daughter to school. It was her first day at school – also her only day at school.

A student, Khan, said about the attack:

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 be shot again. My body was shivering. I saw death so close. I will never forget the black boots approaching me – I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.

This was one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s history, and in the massacre in which Taha Munir Paracha lost his friends, two of 132 students and 149 total victims to be martyred that day, and I find it absolutely heartbreaking how they left the spaces where their friends once stood empty.

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