| Tim Craig |
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Where the first shots were fired – in the main auditorium where the killing began – pools of drying blood dot the floor near exit doors.
Scattered shoes and broken eyeglasses – perhaps belonging to students who escaped or the scores who died – hint at the frantic and desperate moments after Taleban gunmen burst into the Army Public School and College.
A few feet away, computers were shattered. Bookshelves were overturned. Door frames and windows were ripped from hinges in classrooms.
The adjoining administrator offices carried the scars of the attack: windows blown out, ceilings collapsed, walls charred. And on school grounds, two human feet sat atop other body parts that had been collected and placed on a white blanket.
For 90 minutes, in an effort to show the world the horror of Tuesday’s assault on the school, Pakistani military leaders led journalists on a tour of where at least 148 students and teachers were killed.
The tour began with a news conference on the steps of the school. Maj Gen Asim Bajwa, chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, warned the news media that they were about to see the “unexplainable.”
“Today is one of the saddest days of our history,” Bajwa said as he stood on the blood-stained steps. “Unfortunately, all of us are ashamed that we have these people with worse-than-animal instincts who could come and kill innocent children in such a mass scale.”
A day earlier, the militants used the same 18 steps to gain access to the school auditorium at about 10am.
They burst into the auditorium as about 250 students were receiving first-aid training from two army doctors. Bajwa said at least two of the gunmen climbed onto the stage and immediately began firing on the students seated below in red-and-blue movie theater-style seats. Some students tried to escape out of two side exits, but they were blocked by the other terrorists.
“And then they shot many of them point-blank in the head,” Bajwa said, noting the inch-thick puddles of blood near the exit doors.
In all, about 100 of the students killed in the attack died in that auditorium. Many of their books remained on the seats.
Bajwa said one teacher ran onto the stage to try to “prevent them from killing students.”
The militants, he said, apparently set the teacher on fire and “burnt her right there on the stage.”
The account was confirmed by a student recovering at nearby Lady Reading Hospital nearby. Mehran Khan, 14, said he looked up being shot in his arm, leg and back and saw “flames coming out of the body” of the teacher. The terrorists then made their way under a covered walkway to the nearby classrooms. Many of the students had already locked themselves in their classrooms, but the terrorists used explosives to blast their way in.
“We were sitting on the floor, trying to hold hands, but the terrorists came in and killed on the spot,” Amir Amin, 18, said in an interview at Lady Reading Hospital, where he was being treated for a bullet wound to his hip. “Only two of us survived.”
The terrorists then moved into the administrative office of the all-boys school, which is financed by the Pakistan military and prides itself on “discipline” and athletics.
Bajwa said the principal of the school locked herself in the bathroom, but one of the militants broke through the ventilator. He then lobbed a grenade into the room, killing the 62-year-old woman.
As Pakistani soldiers began advancing on the carnage, Bajwa said Taleban suicide bombers began blowing themselves up in the administrators’ wing of the school.
The blasts occurred with such force that several offices caught fire. The clock in the teachers’ lounge was stopped at 3:15p m., about five hours after gunmen stormed the auditorium.
On the grass outside of the administrative wing, Pakistani soldiers have arrayed a 100-foot row of the students’ belongings.
Cell phones. Backpacks. Purses. Wrist-watches. Necklaces. Ties. T-shirts. And even more blood. “No one wants to lose their children,” Bajwa said. “This is the worst example of being a human being . . . We are all sad. We are all angered. We are all sickened.” (The Washington Post)