Officials probe girl's school bus death

Education officials launch an investigation into how a four-and-a-half-year-old girl was left to die on her school bus.

Aiman Zeeshanuddin died of suffocation on her school bus.
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ABU DHABI // Education officials will begin an investigation today into the death on Thursday of a four-year-old girl who was left alone all morning on the private minibus that took her to school.
The Abu Dhabi Education Zone (Adez) will visit the Indian Model School in Musaffah to try to determine who was at fault in the death of Aiman Zeeshanuddin.
"We were very horrified to hear about this, of course, and it has had us all upset for the past few days," said Mohammed al Dhaheri, director of Adez.
"As an education zone, we care about the performance of each of our schools and will prosecute the school accordingly if it was in the wrong in any way."
"But at the same time," he added, "we urge parents to be careful about the transportation methods they choose to get their kids to and from school."
Abu Dhabi Police refused yesterday to talk about the incident.
Aiman's chatter and loud laughter are now missing from the narrow corridors of the villa in Khalifa City A, where her parents rent a room.
"My beautiful girl, so beautiful," said her mother, Sobia Zeeshanuddin from Pakistan. "Finished now. Gone."
Last night, the girl's father, Sayed Zeeshanuddin, left on an Etihad flight to Pakistan with his wife and remaining daughter, 11-month-old Areej, to bury the body of Aiman. The family fear they will never know why Aiman did not get off the bus that day.
"Maybe she fell asleep, we think maybe," said Mr Zeeshanuddin, who has been working as a technician for the Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company, Gamco, since Feb 2006.
"But she is a very active child and she never sleeps on the bus. She is always so anxious to reach school; she loves school. But I don't know, maybe that day, she fell asleep."
Like every school morning, Aiman was walked to the villa's gate at 6.45am by her mother to wait for the bus commissioned by Mr Zeeshanuddin and other fathers in the area to transport their children to schools in Musaffah.
The regular school bus does not come to their area, they said.
Based on the advice of a neighbour, Mr Zeeshanuddin arranged for a private bus driver, also from Pakistan, to include Aiman on his morning route.
"The driver is very good," he said. "We never had problems with him."
Sobia, who is three months pregnant with her third child, added: "The bus driver loves my daughter. He always smiles to pick her up. He told us she is the life of his bus."
The driver asked her not to always tie Aiman's hair up," she said. "She has such beautiful, black, silky hair."
Mr Zeeshanuddin had taken Thursday off from work, and at 11.30 he headed to his daughter's school to pick her up.
"Since I was off that day, my wife told me why not to pick Aiman up myself, so I went," he explained.
"I go to the KG gate, but Aiman was not there. I asked the teacher, where is she, and the teacher said, 'But Aiman is absent'. I told the teacher that Aiman went to school that day. The teacher kept insisting. I said, 'I am the father! I know'."
A school-wide search for Aiman began, in the playgrounds, in the washrooms - anywhere the girl could have hidden. Meanwhile, her father called the bus driver.
"He told me that he had dropped Aiman off at school, but I told him she wasn't here," Mr Zeeshanuddin said. "He said he will go back to his bus and call me from there."
By then, Aiman's father headed to his car and started driving through the streets, searching for his daughter.
A few minutes later, the bus driver called him back. "He told me to come quick to the industrial area of Musaffah," Mr Zeeshanuddin said.
"He said he found my daughter but she is very ill. He gave me an address I didn't know. I called up a friend who came with me to help."
When Mr Zeeshanuddin arrived at where the bus was parked, the area was already swarming with police cars. "The driver had called the police already," he said.
"I walked into the bus and she was just sitting there. She looked like she was sleeping. She was in the centre seat, with her head to the side, just sitting like she is sleeping."
Mr Zeeshanuddin said the police immediately took the bus driver into custody.
Ten days before the accident occurred, the Zeeshanuddin family had just returned from an Umrah trip - a religious pilgrimage - to Saudi Arabia.
"Aiman loved the Umrah trip we took," her father said. "She understood the religious importance of it."
Aiman, who was born in Pakistan but came to Abu Dhabi with her mother in January 2007 after her father had set up a home for the family, was described by her parents, uncle and neighbours as an intelligent, social and gifted child. The little girl could speak fluent English and Urdu.
"She touched the Ka'aba and came to tell me about it," her mother said of the cube-like structure in Mecca that is the centre of the Muslim world.
"She told me, 'Mama, I knocked on the door of the Ka'aba; maybe God will answer me soon!' God has listened to my little girl."