One of the schoolgirls snatched by Boko Haram when they raided a Nigerian dormitory has been found wandering through a small north-eastern village, the first confirmed escape since the atrocity that shocked the world in April this year.
Conflicting details emerged about how the 20-year-old was found, with officials saying she was dropped off by suspected militants, while residents said she had escaped.
The police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said: “I can confirm that on 24 September 2014 at about 5pm, a girl, 20 years of age, among the abducted Chibok girls was dropped off by suspected Boko Haram militants at Mubi in Adamawa state. Her condition is stable. She is getting the best of medical attention. The information we have is that she is one of the abducted girls. Other details will be made known to you in due course.”
Locals said she was found wandering through fields on the outskirts of Hong, a district in Adamawa, which neighbours Borno state. “Nobody knows how she came here. She was either released or escaped. She had been running around the bush for about four days before she reached here,” said Musa Sule, a local farmer. Locals and officials said a Boko Haram cell is known to be located in Damboa, more than 75 miles (120km) away. The sect was previously headquartered in the sprawling Sambisa forest, near Damboa, and continues to use it as a base and training camp.
The first confirmation of an escape comes after the Nigerian army earlier this week said dozens of girls had been released and were being looked after in an army barracks. They later retracted the statement and said none of the teenagers had been freed.
The young woman was visited by a member of the “Abuja Family”, a small group of relatives and supporters who hold daily rallies in the capital, Abuja. The member told the Guardian she was in a state of extreme trauma and was unable to talk about what he called her “torture”.
“Right now she’s not in a position to explain exactly how she escaped. All we know is she either fled or was released by the group because they felt she had become a burden,” he said.
The escape could potentially shed light on where the other girls and young women still in captivity are being held. Boko Haram is in talks with the Nigerian government to secure a hostage-swap deal for dozens of their senior commanders currently in prison, although all previous negotiations have foundered.
As a group of parents gathered in Abuja to hold their daily vigil, most were torn between joy and despair. “We are all happy that one of our girls has escaped,” another father said, speaking on condition of anonymity as all the group members have agreed to do. “But it is difficult seeing the state the girl was in, and to think about what is happening to the others. We cannot be truly be happy until all our girls are brought home.”
Previous escapees interviewed by the Guardian spoke of multiple rapes, mutilations and forcible conversions. Several entered a catatonic trance at the mention of the sect’s name.