Parents Confirm Death of American Hostage Kayla Mueller

The Mueller family says they received confirmation from the Islamic State of their daughter's death.

Mueller Family Photocrop

Capping days of uncertainty about her fate, the parents of Kayla Mueller, the last known American hostage held by the Islamic State, said in a statement Tuesday that they have received confirmation from her daughter’s captors that she had died.

Late last week, the militant group claimed that Mueller had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike but failed to provide any evidence to substantiate that claim. A representative of the family told Foreign Policy that the Muellers had received a private message from the Islamic State, which has been “authenticated and deemed credible” by the intelligence community, and contained confirmation of their daughter’s death.

“We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller, has lost her life,” Carl and Marsha Mueller 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.”

It’s not yet known whether the Islamic State provided evidence in that message to confirm Mueller was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. According to CNN, the militant group had emailed the family photos of her dead body.

Outside analysts, meanwhile, have questioned how the militants could have differentiated between bombs dropped by its planes and those dropped by the United States, which has carried out the vast majority of the strikes against the group. Others have noted that the Islamic State had clear motivation to pin blame for her death on Jordan to distract from the widespread rage and revulsion over the terrorist group’s release of a video showing them burning a captured Jordanian pilot alive in a cage.

In a statement, President Barack Obama — whose administration has come under fire for not doing more to free Mueller and other hostages who died in Islamic State custody — expressed his condolences to the Mueller family, said their daughter “represents what is best about America,” and added that “on this day, we take comfort in the fact that the future belongs not to those who destroy, but rather to the irrepressible force of human goodness that Kayla Mueller shall forever represent.”

According to a letter Kayla Mueller wrote to her family while in captivity and released Tuesday, she was treated with the “utmost respect and kindness” by her captors. “I have surrendered myself to our creator because literally there was no one else,” she wrote in the letter, which is undated but according to her family was composed in the spring of 2014.

“If you could say I have ‘suffered’ at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through,” she wrote, addressing her family. “I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness. I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the one you really have is God.”

Mueller’s letter is also testament to her resilience in captivity. She wrote in the letter that she did not want her parents to be burdened with the duty of handling the negotiations for her release. “None of us could have known it would be this long, but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able, and I have a lot of fight left inside of me,” she wrote.” “I am not breaking down, and I will not give in no matter how long it takes.”

Mueller, 26, was captured on Aug. 4, 2013, as she was leaving a Spanish Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria. She had first traveled to the Syria-Turkey border in December 2012 and went to work for the Danish Refugee Council and the charity Support to Life. It’s believed that she followed her boyfriend into Syria, where she had little support or experienced guidance.

Deeply disturbed by the human suffering of Syria’s civil war, Mueller found a calling in humanitarian work. In May 2013 she traveled to her hometown of Prescott, Arizona, where she delivered a speech at the local Kiwanis Club describing, among other things, her efforts to reunite a 6-year-old Syrian boy with his family after they became separated following an attack on a refugee camp.

“This story is not rare in Syria,” she said, according to a report in the Prescott Daily Courier. “This is the reality for Syrians two and a half years on. When Syrians hear I’m an American, they ask, ‘Where is the world?’ All I can do is cry with them, because I don’t know.”

Handwritten and transcribed versions of Mueller’s letter from captivity can be read below.

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Photo courtesy of the Mueller family. 

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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