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Nigerian Schoolgirl: Boko Haram Militants Said ‘Nothing Is Going to Happen to You’

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A 16-year old Nigerian schoolgirl who escaped from the Boko Haram militants who kidnapped more than 250 of her classmates said that the gunmen pretended they were keeping the teenagers safe.

“Don’t worry, we’re soldiers,” she recalled them saying as they entered her school in Chibok on April 14. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”

The girl described to the Associated Press how gunmen ushered her and her classmates outside, then looted the food from the school and set it on fire.

“They … started shouting, ‘Allahu Akhbar,'” the girl said. “And we knew.”

Earlier that night, a Chibok government official had received a warning that the gunmen were coming, and mobilized the 15 soldiers tasked with guarding the town. But the Boko Haram gunmen outnumbered the government militia, and they were easily overpowered. The girl who escaped said there were too many gunmen to count.

The caravan of girls rode through three villages, and then the car at the back of the caravan broke down. That’s when the 16-year old and her friend jumped out and ran. She remembers her friend saying “We should go! Me, I am coming down. They can shoot me if they want but I don’t know what they are going to do with me otherwise.”

“We ran and ran, so fast,” said the girl. “That is how I saved myself. I had no time to be scared, I was just running.”

The approximately 50 girls who escaped were able to find their way back home with the help of a local man who found them. “I’m the only girl in my family, so I hold a special place and everyone was so happy,” the girl said.

A video surfaced Monday that showed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claiming responsibility for the girls’ abduction, and saying “I will sell the in the market, by Allah.”

“I sell women,” the terrorist leader said. Rumors have surfaced that the girls may have been sold as “brides” to men in Chad and Cameroon for as little as $12.

Mutah Buba’s two sisters and two nieces were abducted by the gunmen, so he returned to Chibok to join a search party to look for them. He and his fellow searchers tracked the caravan through the forest until they met an old man who told them that the militants would kill the girls if they approached the camp. Buba and his group returned to Chibok to ask the military for help, but they refused.

“What was strange was that none of the people we spoke to had seen a soldier man in the area, yet the military were saying they were in hot pursuit,” Buba said.

It took the global media more than two weeks to catch onto the story, but in the last few days social media has exploded in outrage over the government’s failure to act. #BringBackOurGirls has been trending since last week, and massive protests in Abuja are embarrassing President Goodluck Jonathan just as world leaders arrive in Nigeria for the World Economic Forum this week.

More: How We Failed the Lost Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram

The Obama Administration announced Tuesday that the U.S. will be sending a team to Nigeria to help the government locate and rescue the girls. The map below shows how the story finally exploded on Twitter:

More: A Timelapse Map of How the #BringBackOurGirls Went Viral on Twitter


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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com