12/22/2014 10:09 EST | Updated 02/21/2015 05:59 EST

Hamilton vigil mourns children slain in Pakistan school shooting

Syed Suhjah Abbas once studied at the same school in Peshawar, Pakistan where a Taliban attack claimed the lives of 132 children and 16 teachers last week. On Monday night, he was one of the several speakers calling on Hamiltonians to stand together against the violence.

Abbas, who spoke briefly but powerfully at a candle light vigil at city hall, said he was extremely upset when he heard news of the mass shooting.


VIDEO | Taliban attack shocks GTA Pakistani community

"It’s your school. You know those teachers. You know those students. When they get killed so brutally, it feels so bad," he said.

He still has three cousins who attend the school including one who was there that day, but all escaped unharmed. A friend’s mother who teaches at the school was also shot, but lived.

The pain is still fresh for Abbas, but the crowd of more than 100 people who braved the cold to come together gave him hope.

"I was so proud. There was so much diversity here, I was so happy to see that I can’t even tell you," he said.

The event included a moment of silence for the 142 children and teachers who were killed at the Pakistani military-run school. The children were also honoured with a beautiful singing of a classic Pakistani poem, an emotional moment for many in the crowd.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, police chief Glenn de Caire, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and several Hamilton-area MPs including David Christopherson and David Sweet all spoke at the event.

Eisenberger called the attack a “sad, criminal, mindless act” and pledged to the Pakistani community that the city of Hamilton stood with them.

Horwath, who said she wept when she saw the news, called the shooting a “crime perpetrated by terrorists.”

"We do not accept children being slaughtered in their school," she said.

NDP MP Christopherson said there is no difference, in his mind, between children in Peshawar and children in Hamilton.

"Those were our daughters, our sons," he said.

Conservative MP David Sweet referred to a row of young children holding candles behind him as he spoke, calling them a "symbol of the innocence lost," in the Peshawar attack.

Running throughout all of the speeches was a question of what can be done to stop attacks like this from happening again. One woman, speaking on behalf of the mothers in attendance, told the crowd “I don’t know what we can do, but we have to do something.”

In Abbas’s mind, there is a solution.

"Honestly, there’s only one thing. Make sure that nobody is isolated. The more we cause isolation, the more radicalization we’ll have," he said.

Events like Monday’s vigil that unite the community go a long way toward goal, he said.