ABUJA, NIGERIA—The volleyball court where Awa Bitrus loved to play is now gone, consumed in the fiery midnight raid that devoured her school and stole her from her family.
The 13-year-old girl, who spent hours hanging around the net set up at the government boarding school in Chibok, was one of more than 300 girls kidnapped a month ago by Boko Haram insurgents.
The militants torched the school and some nearby houses. They also ripped the heart out the rural community, said the girl’s uncle.
“Everything is gone now,” said the man. “Every day, people are crying. Some parents cannot eat. Some parents cannot sleep. They are mourning.”
Like many in Chibok, the uncle does not want his name published, afraid of potential retribution at the hands of the militants who already unleashed so much carnage on his town.
But portraits of the stolen girls are slowly emerging. Awa’s older sister Godiya, an aspiring doctor, was also abducted. Her uncle misses her radiant grin.
“I can clearly see her picture, her smile,” he said over the phone, his voice breaking as he stood just down the way from where the children were stolen.
Both girls are still missing, believed to be held in the nearby Sambisa forest, a vast scrubland roughly the size of Nova Scotia.
A squadron of parents, many armed with homemade weapons, tried to pursue the kidnappers into the dense bush. After several days of tracking they got close, but a local warned them of advancing any further.
“If you like your life, you better withdraw and go back home,” the man said, according to the uncle.
So they returned home, where they wait and pray.
Last week, the town set up a generator to let them watch a video released by Boko Haram. They studied the faces of each girl sitting huddled in the dirt wearing hijabs, mechanically reciting Islamic prayers in Arabic.