October 28, 2016

Teacher’s tragic account of school massacre in Syria

For years to come, the little town of Haas will remember the tragedy that befell its students and teachers on the morning of Wednesday the 26th of October. Between anguished sobs, Mr Abdullah, a teacher present during the attacks, told us his story.

“The day of the airstrikes and the massacre, we’ve called it black Wednesday now, started as a normal school day. There was full attendance. The morning began as usual with the hum of a reconnaissance plane in the background. It came over our area a few times and there were airstrikes in nearby towns. We weren’t too worried though. Our town hasn’t been attacked in a very long time and we couldn’t imagine that Assad’s cruelty would extend to targeting a school.

We finished the first lesson, the second lesson, and recess. During the third lesson, around 10 AM, a plane dropped the first missile and there was a huge explosion about 500 metres east of the school complex. There was fear and panic on our students’ faces.

The school administration and the teachers were in a huge dilemma. What do we do? Do we send the children home or are they more likely to be hit in the street? Do we keep them inside the school, a place we had always thought to be safe, and would that save their lives?

The second missile hit the primary school directly. Students there were injured and killed. We were in a state of panic. There was so much screaming and crying. It’s a scene I can’t describe in words.

I teach at the boys’ school and the students all went out the door. There wasn’t time for myself or the principle to make a decision to evacuate. In their panic, the students opened the doors and ran outside themselves.

The third missile fell on the girls’ school. The destruction was immense. There were so many dead among the girls and so many injured. Right now we are still getting news of girls and women dying of their injuries. One of the pictures everyone is sharing is a photo of the arm a child holding on to a school bag. Her father now has no part of her to hold onto but that school bag.

The plane was circling above us the whole time and the attacks carried on for about half an hour. There were eight airstrikes in total and it was obvious they were targeting the schools. We found out after that it was two planes doing the bombing. There were a few minutes, maybe even less, between each attack. I can’t describe it. I can’t understand the brutality that Bashar Al-Assad has reached.

It was total chaos. The children filled the streets, scared and crying. Many of the town’s people showed up to the scene along with our heroic doctors and the civil defence.

You could fill novels with all the shocking details of that day. Whose story should I tell you? I could tell you about my student Ahmad who wanted to be a brain doctor. He was hit by shrapnel on his way out from the school and killed. He was in pieces.

A total of 43 people died, schoolchildren and teachers. The destruction in the area looks as if we were hit by a tremendous earthquake. Now education is out of service in our town. Our school buildings and our classrooms were utterly destroyed. And there is such fear among the students. It’ll be impossible for them to come back.

The town’s residents are in a complete state of emotional breakdown. There’s hardly a home in town that doesn’t have a daughter or son that was injured or killed at the school. In my class alone, I lost two students. My own children were in the complex but thankfully they were unharmed. ”

The day of the massacre, loudspeakers announced that parents whose children hadn’t come home from school should come pick up their bodies at the mosque. No parent or child anywhere should have to go through this.

Make sure everyone knows the story of the schoolchildren in Haas — share their teacher’s story now.