Kaltuma Wari came out of hiding to look for her 57-year-old husband and six of her nine children after Boko Haram attacked her hometown of Baga in northeast Nigeria.
“I went out with my three youngest children in search of my husband and other children but I ran into a group of five Boko Haram gunmen,” the 40-year-old told AFP.
“They asked me where I was going and I told them I was searching for my husband and children. They said I should not waste my time searching for anyone because they killed them.
“They said they had just killed a man and his children at the next turn. They said I should follow them.”
Wari hesitated until two of the militants pointed their guns at her. She was then escorted to a state-run boarding school for girls in the town that was packed with women and children.
“There were over 500 women and hundreds of children,” she said by telephone from the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, which she managed to reach earlier this week.
At the Government Girls Secondary School, Wari said the women were kept in dormitories, classrooms and in the open, despite the cold seasonal wind, the Harmattan.
“Many of us had been separated from our children and husbands,” she said in the Hausa language spoken widely in the region. “They didn’t touch any woman but they paid more attention to young women.
“They kept watch on them and they were always accompanied by gunmen wherever they went, even to the bathroom.”
Boko Haram fighters brought food from the markets and looted shops, and the women were forced to cook for them.
Many women, ill with worry about the fate of their loved ones, refused to eat, she added.
“Many women are too sick to eat. They can’t even walk. I believe many will die from the cold,” she continued.
“Some of us turned hysterical and I was one of them. They got fed up with us and (on Wednesday) around 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) they singled us out and asked us to leave the town.
“We were around 100, all of us mothers. They would never allow any young woman to leave.”
The insurgents have used kidnapping of young women and girls as a regular tactic in their six-year rebellion.
Human Rights Watch said last October that more than 500 women and girls have been abducted since the insurgency began in 2009, although other estimates put the figure much higher.
The most high profile are the 219 schoolgirls from Chibok, also in Borno State, who were abducted last April and are still being held.
Former hostages have described seeing infants and women as old as 65 in Boko Haram camps, and how they were made to cook, clean and perform household chores.
Wari’s testimony about the January 3 attack also adds weight to other eye-witness claims that a massacre occurred in Baga — and that as yet, there has been no apparent military fight-back.
“When I left the school I saw a lot of burnt houses and decomposing human bodies scattered all over the town.
“I had to cover my nose with the side of my veil because of the putrid smell from the dead bodies,” she said.
“There is no one in the town except Boko Haram. They patrol the town throughout the night. They don’t sleep at night. They have turned the (multinational) military base into their headquarters.
“They have also converted all big houses into their lodging. They didn’t burn them…
“Almost all the villages we passed on our way to Monguno (65 kilometres/40 miles away by road) were deserted except for old women too weak to make the long trek.”