The school day wasn't even halfway over when the fighters walked in with their guns.
Several militants entered the campus through its lightly fortified back entrance around 10 a.m., according to witnesses.
The fighters, linked to the Pakistani Taliban, turned what might have been a normal Tuesday for the hundreds of children at the army-run school in Peshawar, Pakistan's northwestern hub, into a day of national trauma. They killed at least 132 children -- and nine adults -- before being killed themselves. They turned a place of learning and community into a place where children as young as 12 were shot in the head, where corpses lined the halls and where a teacher was burned alive.
Discussion in the days ahead will focus on Pakistan's counterterrorism strategy. Pundits are already calling this perhaps the most audacious attack by the Pakistani Taliban in its history and suggesting it could be a harbinger for worse to come. Meanwhile, the attack has boosted support for Pakistan's powerful army. That will enable it to become even more aggressive against the Taliban -- which may spur further attacks on symbols of the state.
But that discussion shouldn't eclipse Tuesday's focus -- the children. Here are the stories of some who survived the massacre.
"We thought it was just a drill."
"We were doing our work. The fourth period had started. Just as the firing started, our teachers said not to worry -- it was just a drill. So we thought it was just a drill. Then suddenly a lot of firing happened and army people going past said an attack had started. Then an army officer came and told teachers and the principal to take us out. Inside the college [for older children] there were a thousand kids who couldn't leave until the fight was over."
"I will never forget the black boots approaching me" -- Shahrukh Khan, 16.
“Someone screamed at us to get down and hide below the desks," Khan told Agence France Presse in an interview from his hospital bed. “Then one of them shouted: ‘There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them.’... I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me. ... 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 get shot again. My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me -- I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.”
Reuters also spoke with Khan, who told the news service, "One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain..One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. All around me my friends were lying injured and dead."
"They shot the children in each chair."
"We were in the hall. We'd been called out there to get first aid information. We heard a noise from above. We thought there was something being repaired. Behind us was the wall, after which we have lots of gates. [The fighters] broke through one of the gates. As soon as they got in, all the children lay down on the floor. In our halls, we have chairs. They shot the children in each chair. I couldn't watch it. When I grow up, I will destroy their world, I will destroy their children -- I won't let them be."
"Our friends had been martyred."
"As soon as the firing started, our teacher made us sit in a corner and told us to lower our heads. After around an hour, when the firing grew lighter, army personnel came and rescued us. But as we walked out, we saw in the corridors that our friends had been martyred. They had been hit with bullets, some with three and some with four. Blood was flowing out around them."
"First they were shooting in the air. Then they started shooting children one by one."
"We were all sitting in our classrooms. We had an army doctor visiting who had come to tell us about first aid. They called Years 8, 9 and 10 into the hall. Behind our school, there's a net and a wall, then just an open space. [The fighters] came through there. They began firing from the roof. Teachers started closing the doors. When the doors were closed, they broke the doors. When they came in, they started firing -- and all the children got scared. ... First they were shooting in the air, then they started shooting children one by one."