Three weeks ago, the girls of the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School heard distant gunshots and were relieved to finally see uniformed men burst into their dorm.
“Don’t worry, we’re soldiers,” a 16-year-old student says to the Associated Press of one of the gunmen. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”
Once the gunmen commanded the hundreds of girls to gather outside, looted the storeroom for food, and set the room ablaze, they began to shout, “Allahu Akhbar,” or God is great.
“And we knew,” the 16-year-old says.
Boko Haram kidnapped the entire group of girls and drove them into the Sambisa Forest, which is 23,000 square miles, or nearly eight times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Three weeks later, hundreds of girls are still missing, at least two have died from snakebites, and about 20 are sick, according to an intermediary who is in touch with the captors.
The anonymous 16-year-old is one of 50 girls who escaped on the day of the attack.
“We ran and ran, so fast,” she says. “That is how I saved myself. I had no time to be scared; I was just running.
Hours before the ambush, a local government official, Bana Lawal, received a warning that around 200 heavily armed militants traveling in a convoy of about 20 trucks and 30 motorcycles were heading toward his town. Lawal alerted the 15 soldiers guarding Chibok, then roused sleeping residents and told them to flee. Soldiers sent an SOS to the nearest barracks, about 30 miles away, but an hour’s drive on a dirt road.
Boko Haram militants arrived two hours later. The soldiers held them off for 90 minutes, waiting for the help that never came. They eventually ran out of ammunition and fled. As dawn approached, the extremists headed toward the school.
Some of the girls have been sold for a nominal bride price of $12, according to parents, while others have been taken across the border into Cameroon and Chad.
The 16-year-old feels both afraid and angry, often wondering why she was able to escape while her friends are still being held captive.
“I am really lucky, and I can thank God for that,” she says. “But God must help all of them…Their parents are worrying. Every day, everyone is crying.”