Family, others kept Kayla Mueller's capture a secret to protect her

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Kayla Mueller has been held hostage by ISIS for 17 months and, until Friday, her family has dealt with the fear and pain almost in silence.

Because they were so concerned for the daughter’s safety, Carl and Marsha Mueller only confided in a few people. One of those people was then-Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is also from Prescott.

Bennett spoke with the Muellers this weekend to make sure it was OK to share his story. They gave him permission and assured him that they are still holding out hope their 26-year-old daughter is still alive.

Bennett said that just days after Kayla Mueller disappeared in August 2013, her father was driving home and heard Bennett on a local radio show in Prescott. Not knowing who else to turn to, he took a chance and showed up at the radio station.

“I walk out and here is this man waiting for me, and it's Carl Mueller," Bennett recalled. "He said, 'Our daughter has been working in the Middle East in a humanitarian way ... and she has been captured by terrorists, and I don't know what to do.’ ”

"As a father, I empathize with that," Bennett said, tearfully.

Bennett has three children about the same age as Kayla Mueller. His youngest knows her from school.

Bennett said he immediately connected the Muellers with Sen. John McCain and others in Washington, D.C. to get them the diplomatic help they needed. Everyone told them to keep their daughter’s capture a secret, that her life could depend on it.

The two men kept in touch as weeks turned to months, before the Mueller family was finally contacted by ISIS in May 2014.

“On the phone calls thereafter, you could still sense the pain and the anguish of a father and a family wanting for their daughter," Bennett said.

He said Carl Mueller always spoke about how proud he is of his daughter and her drive and desire to help others, especially the people of Syria.

“Just to hear him talk about who she is and the love in her heart, it's always tough to hear him try to share about who she is at a time when he is so anguished over the condition that she might be in," Bennett said.

When asked about how the family has suffered in silence and tried to keep their pain hidden, Bennett said, “I think that is one of the most amazing parts of this story is that out of love for their daughter, they had to bear this almost alone."

When asked about ISIS' claims that Kayla Mueller died in a Jordanian airstrike last week without showing proof she was even there, Bennett said, “We don’t want to speculate on what has happened or what might happen. I just hope that she is still alive and I know the family still carries that hope.”

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