The parents of Kayla Mueller, the last known American hostage held by Islamic State, have confirmed her death in a statement today, days after airstrikes in Syria were rumored to have killed the 26-year-old.
"We are heartbroken to share that we've received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller, has lost her life," the statement from parents Carl and Marsha Mueller, and her brother Eric, said today.
"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 family said.
News that the airstrikes near the town of Raqqa had killed Mueller — an aid worker from Prescott, Arizona — initially surfaced on Friday through social media accounts affiliated with the militant group. Reports circulating at the time purported that Jordanian bombs had hit the building where she was being detained. The Muellers' statement does not provide further details about their daughter's death, or how they were informed she is dead.
In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel extended his condolences to Mueller's family, who he said was killed while IS, also referred to as ISIS and ISIL, held her hostage.
"The world is united in condemning ISIS's continued murder and imprisonment of innocents," Hagel said. "As we join Kayla's family and loved ones in their grief, we also celebrate her selfless dedication to helping others."
President Barack Obama echoed Hagel in a press statement today, emphasizing the pursuit of justice after Mueller's death and laying out strong words against the terror group.
"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," Obama said. "ISIL is a hateful and abhorrent terrorist group whose actions stand in stark contrast to the spirit of people like Kayla."
Initially, officials from both the US and Jordan denied the aid worker had been killed during Jordanian strikes, brushing the reports off as propaganda. Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby reaffirmed those sentiments on Tuesday, telling reporters that authorities were sure an air attack launched by Jordan was not what killed Mueller.
Kirby said officials were not aware how Mueller died, but whether there was doubt over who killed her, he responded, "No doubt. ISIL."
Mueller was kidnapped by IS in August 2013 on her way out of a building in Aleppo, which was being managed by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). She was not affiliated with MSF at the time, but instead had gone to the building with a technician who MSF had contracted for repair work.
"On August 3, 2013, a technician sent by a company contracted by MSF arrived at one of the organization's structures in Aleppo, Syria, to perform repairs. Unbeknown to the MSF team, Kayla, a friend of the technician's, was accompanying him. She was then abducted on the drive back," MSF said in a statement on Friday. Prior to this weekend's events, Mueller's family had asked media not to report her name.
While held hostage, Mueller was able to get a letter to her family in the spring of 2014. On Tuesday, the family released the message for the first time. The letter apparently was passed to unidentified cellmates upon their release. In the note, Mueller wrote that she was unharmed, healthy, and in a safe location, while adding that she still had "a lot of fight" left inside her. She also addressed attempts to negotiate her release.
"I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be your duty, if there is any other option take it, even if it takes more time," she wrote, referencing unnamed women who she had asked to support her parents. "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."
The militant group had previously demanded a 5 million euro ransom in exchange for releasing Mueller in mid-August. According to a White House statement in January, negotiations for the aid worker's release were underway.
Mueller moved to Turkey in December 2012 to assist refugees along the border who were fleeing the ongoing war in Syria. She worked with organizations like Support to Life and the Danish Refugee Council.
Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB