The militants opened fire on the school’s compound, sending the girls fleeing for shelter. Some jumped over the fence and went to hide in the surrounding bush. Several others ran out through the school’s main gate and into some of the waiting militants, who took them.
Many parents in the town waited for their children, hoping they would emerge from hiding in the coming days. Rebecca said she waited three days, hoping that Leah was not among the abducted girls. “Up till now I haven’t seen Leah,” she said.
A month after taking the girls, the militants drove back into Dapchi on March 21 in a convoy and returned 104 of them. Videos from the village showed ecstatic villagers thanking and shaking hands with the militants for returning the girls. The insurgents said they returned the girls after discovering they were Muslim, and warned the villagers not to return their children to school. The name Boko Haram loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden.”
Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed later said the government neither paid ransom nor swapped prisoners with the extremist group to ensure the girls’ safe return. He claimed the government reached an unconditional agreement for their release, since the abduction breached ongoing cease-fire talks. “When the girls were being brought back, an operational pause was observed in certain areas to ensure free passage and prevent loss of lives.”
But five of the captured girls died in captivity, their deaths witnessed and confirmed by their classmates who were released. Auta said the girls informed the community that Leah remained with the militants because she refused to convert to Islam.
Aisha Wali, deputy director of the Yobe state Women Affairs Ministry, said the girls revealed in their meetings that they tried to protect Leah, the only Christian among them. “The students said they were calling her Ladi and they gave her a hijab to wear, but she refused.”
Her mother fainted upon hearing the news, and she had to be hospitalized.
Rebecca’s husband, Nathan, who works as a policeman in northeast Adamawa state, told reporters he was happy Leah stood for her faith. “As a father, I wish she returned home as the rest,” he said, “but God is in control.”