By Candace Kellner
American aid worker and ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller has been confirmed dead, according to her family and the White House. Just days before the confirmation, ISIS claimed that Mueller had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike in their de facto capital in Syria. For a year and a half, Mueller’s family has known that their daughter was being held hostage, but did not go public until recently because her captors threatened to execute her if they spoke out, CNN reported. On Tuesday, Jan. 10, their worst fears were confirmed when they found that Mueller had in fact been killed.
“We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller has lost her life,” Mueller’s parents said in a statement. “Kayla was a compassionate and devoted humanitarian. She dedicated the whole of her young life to helping those in need of freedom, justice and peace.”
The Mueller family did not elaborate on the cause of Kayla’s death and how they had learned of the tragedy, U.S. officials also refused to confirm the circumstances behind Mueller’s death. According to NBC News, the only details they released was that they had received a message from ISIS with information that American authorities were able to verify.
President Barack Obama offered his “deepest condolences” to Mueller’s family and friends and verified the young aid worker’s death.
“No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla’s captivity and death,” the President said in a statement.
According to NBC News, Secretary of State John Kerry said Mueller “represented everything good about the human spirit,” and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel remarked, “The world is united in condemning ISIS’s murder and imprisonment of innocents.”
The President stressed that the U.S. had done all it could to save the young aid worker, who was believed to be the last American captive held by ISIS. ISIS had previously beheaded three Americans — James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
Mueller’s passion for humanitarian work brought her to Syria back in 2013. As a teen, she received several volunteering awards and she focused on international causes such as the genocide in Darfur. After graduating from Northern Arizona University, Mueller traveled to India, Israel and the Palestinian territories with aid organizations. In 2011, Mueller returned home to Arizona to work at an HIV/ AIDS clinic and a women’s shelter, but ultimately chose to return to her work overseas.
“This is my life’s work, to go where there is suffering,” Mueller wrote on her blog. “I suppose, like us all, I’m learning how to deal with the suffering of the world inside myself … to deal with my own pain and most importantly to still have the ability to be proactive.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 10, Mueller’s family released an unpublished letter that she had written to her family while in captivity in 2014.
“I know you would want me to remain strong,” she said. “That is exactly what I am doing.”