Patience Bulus and Esther Joshua held hands as they were marched out of their dorm room at gunpoint that April night. Herded into the back of an open-bed truck, they lost their grip on each other. Amid the mass of frightened students, Patience heard Esther’s soft voice ask, “What will happen?”
Then someone jumped off the side. Suddenly other girls were tumbling into the darkness, willing to risk being shot or lost in the unknown forest to flee their captors. Patience looked next to her, but Esther had been pulled deeper into the truck. Patience pushed her way to the edge and jumped without Esther.
For five years a rebel insurgency in northeastern Nigeria had terrorized the region and shut down schools. The Government Secondary School for girls in Chibok had reopened in April 2014 for students to take their final exams. In a region where less than half of all girls attend primary school, these students had defied the odds they were born into long before the war reached them. But around 11 p.m. on April 14, trucks of militants from Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” forced 276 girls from their dorms onto trucks and drove toward the lawless cover of the Sambisa forest, a nature reserve the jihadist group had taken over to wage a bloody war against the government.