The three women had been walking for hours through forests and into the mountains west of Monrovia, sometimes in muddy water up to their waists, thanks to the rain that had fallen over Liberia in the previous few days.

They had a small bag with food and water they’d grabbed from home, but the rebels wouldn’t allow their captives to rest and eat. When anyone faltered, a rebel would prod the person with his gun.

Some people carried elderly parents who were unable to walk on their own. But as the younger people became too weak to continue, they set their parents down, leaving them almost certainly to die.

There were stories, passed among the captives as they walked shoulder-to-shoulder, of women being raped. Because of that, the three women focused on staying together. Periodically they’d hear or see someone in the crowd randomly being shot. At one point the women passed a body they recognized as a friend’s driver.

Seventeen-year-old Crannough (pronounced Crane-nuf) Jones wondered what had become of her father as she, her mother, Patricia, and 16-year-old sister, Carmen, forged on. They had left him back in Monrovia at their beachfront house, with its four bedrooms and its black marble floors and its terraces, where you could nap in a hammock as the ocean breezes caressed you to sleep.

Six months earlier, in December 1989, rebel warlord Charles Taylor had begun his campaign of terror in the West African nation, and that May his troops had arrived in the capital city. In the month since, the Joneses had been living in an interdenominational compound. But Roland Jones, who worked at the Ministry of Finance, had wanted to return home for food and valuables in case they needed to flee.

The women were waiting for him outside the house when a band of rebels arrived, wearing wigs and women’s clothing and acting “crazy,” Crannough recalls more than 20 years later. The effect should have been comical; it was terrifying instead.

“Leave immediately or we will kill you,” they said.

When the women stayed rooted there, paralyzed with fear, the men began firing Berettas at their feet. The three had been walking ever since, herded along with thousands of other refugees that June day in 1990.

“We kept looking back in hopes that we would find my dad among the mass of people,” Crannough says.

She felt herself trembling with shock. As unsettling as the guns and the bodies and the uncertainty was the sight of her mother—a woman always impeccably dressed who worked for the Ministry of Land Mines and Energy and was best friends with the highest government officials—slogging through the mud, helpless and bedraggled.

About the time that Crannough Jones was on a forced march into the mountains, Debbie and Jim Senker were newlyweds preparing to start a life together in Washington, D.C.

They’d met four years earlier, when Debbie was 25, Jim was 24, and both were working in advertising in New York City. Theirs was a mixed faith marriage.

“Jim asked me, ‘What are you doing for the holidays?’ ” Debbie remembers, her brown eyes crinkling with amusement, “and I thought he meant Christmas/Thanksgiving [when he really meant the Jewish holidays]. Since I am Lebanese, with my dark hair and eyes, he must have thought I was Jewish.”

Three months before their “huge” (350-guest) wedding, health issues prompted Jim’s father to ask him to take over the family’s furniture rental business in D.C.

So the couple moved, and Debbie went to work in the furniture showroom while looking for a job in advertising. She’d never been far from her large, close-knit Catholic family in Connecticut, and she battled homesickness as she adjusted to the new city.