Editor’s note: CNN’s Nima Elbagir, Lillian Leposo and Nick Migwe made the dangerous journey to Chibok, Nigeria, to gather firsthand accounts of the abduction of the schoolgirls — and how people in the northeastern town are still living in fear.
Chibok, Nigeria (CNN) — The terrifying news began to spread before the gun-wielding Islamist militants made it into Chibok last month. Villagers began to receive cell phone calls that the feared extremist group Boko Haram was on the way.
No one knew what the attack would entail, that it would mean hundreds of schoolgirls plucked from their beds by a group of extremists who would later threaten to sell them.
“It’s like they were coming for a shopping trip,” a villager who witnessed the attack told CNN.
Some lucky girls managed to escape that night when, after they were loaded into cargo trucks, they made a dash for freedom.
“We would rather die than go,” one of the girls told CNN. “We ran into the bush. We ran and we ran.”
With fear in her eyes and voice, the young woman, who asked not to be identified, described the experience to a CNN crew that made the long, dangerous trip to her village.
She said she and two friends who had also escaped saw something on fire and headed in that direction, presuming it was building in the village that had been set ablaze. Normally, Chibok is pitch black at night.
Officials have said that Boko Haram militants abducted 276 girls from the boarding school on April 14 and that some escaped into a forest.
Villagers said they passed along warnings to local police that the terrorists were on their way that night. They said they received phone calls from family and friends from surrounding villages and were told that there was a convoy of cargo trucks, pickups and motorcycles heading their way.
One villager said he was told, “They are coming for you. Run!”
The villagers said police called for reinforcements, but none came. Everyone, including the police, fled into the bush during the attack. But the girls were asleep in their dorms.
The stories appear to confirm an Amnesty International report that the government couldn’t put together enough troops to head off the attack.
The girl who described her escape to CNN was still shaken up by the events. When asked to describe what her kidnappers wore, she responded: “I feel afraid.”
Her school is closed, but if it were open, she says, she wouldn’t go back.
There are many checkpoints on the roads from the capital of Abuja to Chibok. Some of these are manned by the military. Others have local vigilantes, armed with machetes, posted there.
The stops are too many to count and have turned what should be an eight- to 10-hour trip into a journey that took CNN’s crew four days.
At each checkpoint, someone will ask where you are headed, poke his head in the vehicle and look around. Sometimes, he will ask to check passports.
The absence of a security stop is noticeable when cars turn off the main, paved road onto the clay-topped, pothole-filled path to Chibok. There are no checkpoints for the last hour.
The village is home to hundreds of people, and despite the abduction, life appears to be almost normal. Children play in the streets; men and women go to work.
The primary place of business in town, the open-air market, is busy even after nightfall, though not for long. At the stands, villagers try to charge their mobile phones through power strips attached to gasoline-powered generators. Rarely does electricity flow through the grid. Solar-powered streetlights never work.
When the women, children and elderly go to sleep, the young men station themselves throughout the village. Every group has its own area of operation where the men — who work during the day and must get very little sleep — do security patrols throughout the night. Each of them carries a machete, a poisoned bow and arrow or, in some cases, a homemade gun.
Many in the village said they hope this will help put pressure on the government to do more to find their girls.