SINJAR, Northern Iraq – Parts of Sinjar today look like ruins from ancient times or a destroyed city from a world war. ISIS did much of this destruction while street fighting and allied airstrikes did the rest.
Before ISIS left Sinjar, they took terrorism to a whole new level. Churches were destroyed. Land mines and booby traps destroyed homes and businesses.
Yazidis Wiped Out
It wasn't just buildings that were destroyed. ISIS wiped out the Yazidis, a peaceful religious ethnic group in northern Iraq.
There are about 28 mass grave sites outside Sinjar. You can see clothing fragments and human bones. About 1,500 Yazidis were killed. Most of them were men, but there are also the bones of women and children here. The test for young boys was if they raised their arms and had any underarm hair, they could be killed.
Dave Eubank of the relief ministry, Free Burma Rangers, came to help the Yazidi people.
"If anybody wants to know why you need to stop ISIS, you look at this," Eubank said. "These are women and children and men. Every kind of person, every age. You have little baby skulls, (and) this big one with the front teeth bashed in. There's no teeth and the front nasal cavity is just smashed in with a rifle or something -- to slaughter whole families like that. And they're right there; they're not very far away. Probably about a 1,000 yards away is ISIS."
Eubank says the war fought here is the same war facing the West.
"These are our brothers and sisters. It's coming to us anyway," Eubank said. "This is the war we didn't choose and it's coming. It's already come to America. So we don't have a choice. In Iraq you don't have a choice. You have to stop this. Morally, much more importantly, we need to stop this for the sake of these people. So I think the lesson learned is when evil comes you don't wait. It's like an infection, you don't wonder if it's going to get better. You immediately attack it. That's how you start the healing."
Witness to Massacre
After visiting the site, we talked to a man who witnessed the massacre. He told us when he saw what was happening, he couldn't do anything to stop it because he was on Mt. Sinjar, defending their position. He said he felt sorry that he wasn't able to help, but he couldn't come down from the mountain.
During the fighting recapture the city from ISIS, the fighting went street to street and underground.
CBN News was able to explore one of the tunnels that ISIS dug throughout Sinjar. This particular tunnel stretched through five buildings. Military planners think ISIS has dug numerous tunnels like this one inside Mosul. In urban fighting, tunnels like these give defenders of the city a big advantage.
The entire city of Sinjar is littered with the debris of war. We saw posters warning about picking up any leftover explosives. Yet in the midst of the danger and destruction, there's a sign of life: a playground.
Spreading Joy to Kids in a War Zone
Karen Eubank of Free Burma Rangers told us that the playground is a gift from a church in Albuquerque called Reload Love.
"It's a product of great vision to put fun and joy in a war zone -- to give kids who have lived through the trauma of war some fresh piece of love from people who love and care for them," she said.
The playground's bright colors not only stand out in a war-weary city, but one young American saw the value of what a playground can do for the children of war.
"In one of our church visits, one of the Sunday school kids was watching a video of kids playing at another playground at another front line and I think they have forgotten about it -- I think they've forgotten about the war," she continued. "They're just playing. That's our joy in partnership with this and it's our prayer for the kids that they would know something about God's love and a creative new opening in the midst of a difficult place."
It's a story that likely will be repeated in and around Mosul. But the playground stands as a sign of hope in a place, among a people, and in a region where hope seems to have fled.