JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The first of Nigeria’s kidnapped “Chibok girls” to make it home after being released by her Islamic extremist captors spent a tortured night, tossing and turning and screaming “They will kill me! They will kill me!”
So says the Rev. Enoch Mark, who stayed up through Thursday night with the traumatized young woman.
She appears to be the daughter of a Chadian carpenter who moved to the town of Chibok many years ago, according to interviews by The Associated Press.
She is the first of 219 girls held in captivity for more than five months to be released and to find her way home.
Some 276 female students were abducted by Nigeria’s Islamic militant Boko Haram fighters from the Government Secondary School where they had gathered to write final examinations in the early hours of April 15. Fifty-seven escaped by themselves that night or the following day — some by jumping from the open-backed trucks that transported them and clinging to branches of low-hanging trees.
Hundreds of girls, women and boys have been kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters in the past year, but the abduction of the “Chibok girls” from a school in the remote northeast Nigerian town of that name grabbed people’s sympathy and inspired a worldwide campaign for their freedom.
The failure of the Nigerian government and military to rescue them has brought widespread condemnation.
One possible reason that the girls remain captive is that they probably have been split into groups and saving one lot could endanger the others, Gordon Brown, the former British premier who has adopted their cause, told a news conference at the United Nations on Thursday.
He said some despondent families of the missing students are considering whether to hold funerals, as is their tradition when someone has been missing for four months and more.
“I do not want the funerals to take place,” said Brown. “They are likely to be alive,” he said, citing information gathered.
This first appearance of a Chibok abductee could inspire hope, said Mark, the Church of the Brethren pastor who stayed with the young woman Thursday night.
There are some doubts about the identity of the schoolgirl, whom Mark said identified herself as Susannah Ishaya, because she does not speak the local language.
Community leader Pogu Bitrus, who spoke to her by telephone from Chibok on Thursday, the day after she was found, also said he was doubtful because she did not speak the language.
But Bitrus also said that his list of missing students includes a Susannah who is the daughter of a local carpenter, a man he knows is from Chad.
And Mark said Ishaya told him her father is from Chad, where she was born before the family moved to Nigeria.
Bitrus and Mark said the vice principal of the school is trying to get to a northeastern Nigeria military hospital to positively identify her.
Efforts to reach the carpenter in Chibok have so far been unsuccessful. Mark noted that most residents have abandoned Chibok since it first come under attack in April. Boko Haram now holds villages just 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, Bitrus said.
Ishaya said she was left in the bush on Sept. 19 and wandered around disoriented for four days until she stumbled on a village where she was taken in, said both Mark and Bitrus.
Ishaya said that other kidnapped girls also have been “thrown into the bush” when their captors considered them too ill and a liability, said Mark. No others have made it home yet.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations.