A woman holds a candle during a vigil in Abuja, Nigeria, to mark one month since the kidnapping of schoolgirls. / Sunday Alamba, AP
ABUJA, Nigeria - It was the middle of an April night and the girls at Chibok Government Girls Secondary School were exhausted, asleep after a long day of prepping for physics exams.
It was quiet around the dormitory, deep in the heart of Borno in northern Nigeria, where the landscape is barren and life hard.
Then shots pierced the still night, recalled Amina Gumbu, 17, a student at the school.
"The gunshots woke me out of a deep sleep," she said. "Men in uniforms came in saying they were here to rescue us: 'Wake up, girls, we've come to rescue you, we're soldiers, don't worry, you are safe. Get out and assemble close to the parade ground. We will save you.'
"I felt relieved, and I thanked God at first," Gumbu said.
Then she got a bad feeling, and ran.
It has been one month since nearly 300 girls were taken from the village in northeast Nigeria by Islamist terrorists April 15. Despite an international outcry, the fate of the girls is unknown.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan canceled a trip here Friday. Angry parents said he showed no respect for their emotions.
Thousands of Nigerians - both Christian and Muslim - have been killed over the years by Islamist terrorists. More than 1,500 civilians have died this year alone. But what happened on a single evening a month ago haunts many here. Recent revelations indicate people here were aware of the danger but did not prepare.
The Nigerian government's area administrator, Lawal Bana, said he received a telephone call on the night of April 14 tipping him off to some bad news.
"My mobile phone rang and I was told there was going to be an attack," Bana recalled. "I was told that heavily armed militants in trucks and motorcycles were heading toward my town."
Bana sprang into action, he recalled. He ordered the local garrison to confront the attackers and sent out word to civilians to seek safety elsewhere.
His forces were no match for the militants from the the Boko Haram terrorist group, however.
"It's very unfortunate that our soldiers were outnumbered after bravely battling with Boko Haram extremists," said Bana. "They went ahead and kidnapped our daughters when our soldiers ran out of ammunition and fled for their safety."
Kwambura Asabe, the head teacher of the Chibok girls secondary school, was busy in mid-April as he prepared to administer exams to girls from a number of secondary schools in the region.
Non-stop attacks by Boko Haram had led to the closure of all the schools in the area. Because parents wanted their girls to graduate, the one school in Abuja was opened so girls from several schools could come and take their final exams.
The 270 young women, ages 16 to 18, were in their housing at the school when the men in uniform appeared.
"The militants came dressed like our normal soldiers saying they were rescuing the girls from an attack," he said. "'We have reports that Boko Haram extremists are about to strike here,' they told us before loading the girls onto trucks and buses."
Gumbu listened to the barked commands from the uniformed men and hesitated. A little voice inside told her not to trust them.
"I ran towards latrine and hid," she said. "Then I climbed a tree and clung to a branch while I watched my friends gather outside. The men headed toward the storeroom - they removed all the food and set fire to the building."
"This is when I knew they were Boko Haram, not soldiers as they earlier claimed," she said. "I prayed. I could see few friends also escaping to a nearby bush."
The men started shouting, "Allah Akbar" (God is great) as they loaded the students onto trucks and drove through the village. When they were gone, Gumbu climbed down, met up with those coming out of the bushes, and ran home.
For weeks, it was unclear who had taken the girls. But the suspicions were there: Terror group Boko Haram, which in Hausa, a local African language, means "Western education is forbidden," was seen as the most likely culprit.
Members of the group, which seeks a new Islamic state in northern Nigeria, had previously abducted girls for going to school. They've killed many boys.
Suspicions were confirmed three weeks after the girls were taken when Agence France-Presse leaked a video of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau taking credit for the kidnapping.
"I abducted your girls," said Shekau. "Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell."
When the news of the kidnappings first came to light, U.S. and United Kingdom officials immediately offered help in the search. They were turned down by the government of President Jonathan.
Weeks went by, the fate of the girls remained unknown and the initial spate of headlines disappeared. Domestic outrage turned international.
#Bringbackourgirls, went an worldwide campaign on Twitter to do just that.
That the government did little came as no surprise to locals of the region.
"Boko Haram have killed our sons and daughters for close to a decade now, raped them, kidnapped them and our burnt houses as the government watched," said Abdulaziz Yusuf, a resident of Chibok.
"The group is given the freedom by the government to roam villages and inflict terror on residents. The president has never stepped up to stop the Boko Haram terror activities."
Local residents blame that on politics. Voters in this region have never voted for the dominant People's Democratic Party of the country's leaders including Jonathan. The region's representatives remain in opposition in parliament.
The villagers say their region remains underdeveloped for this reason, with most of the federal resources flowing to regions supportive of the president, who is from the predominantly Christian south. They say they feel they are being punished.
"I was born in the north and grew up here - I saw people die, I saw things that eyes are not supposed to see, women and children raped and killed," said Amina Zainab, a resident of Chibok and mother of three, including two daughters.
"I am very depressed at what happened," she added, in tears. "I have daughters and I know how it hurts when one is trapped in this situation. I feel sorry for these mothers."
The mother of one missing girl said the families are organizing their own search because they don't trust the government to do anything.
"These Boko Haram people are infuriating me," the mother said, asking her name be withheld to prevent further harm to her daughter. "But the government is doing nothing to help our daughters."
While local government officials such as Bana denied that they have allowed Boko Haram to act with impunity for years, the parents and others point to the delay in the search for their daughters for weeks and how that allowed the militants to possibly disperse the girls around the region and even across the Chad and Cameroon borders.
And they point to the video released last Monday that showed about half the girls covered in the traditional Muslim veils praying to Allah, even though they are Christian.
That just underscores Shekau's common boast, they say: "I am the president of Nigeria, not Jonathan Goodluck."
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: A morning no one can forget in Nigeria