American ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller dead, family says

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
Mueller's family released a copy of an unpublished letter (with transcription) Kayla wrote to her loved ones in the Spring of 2014, while in captivity. By Courtesy Mueller Family Mueller's family released a copy of an unpublished letter (with transcription) Kayla wrote to her loved ones in the Spring of 2014, while in captivity. By Courtesy Mueller Family
Mueller's family released a copy of an unpublished letter (with transcription) Kayla wrote to her loved ones in the Spring of 2014, while in captivity. By Courtesy Mueller Family Mueller's family released a copy of an unpublished letter (with transcription) Kayla wrote to her loved ones in the Spring of 2014, while in captivity. By Courtesy Mueller Family
Explaining how Kayla Mueller's family concluded she is dead, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Tuesday that the family received a private message from ISIS over the weekend. By Courtesy Mueller Family Explaining how Kayla Mueller's family concluded she is dead, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Tuesday that the family received a private message from ISIS over the weekend. By Courtesy Mueller Family
Explaining how Kayla Mueller's family concluded she is dead, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Tuesday that the family received a private message from ISIS over the weekend. By Courtesy Mueller Family Explaining how Kayla Mueller's family concluded she is dead, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Tuesday that the family received a private message from ISIS over the weekend. By Courtesy Mueller Family

(CNN) -- The family of Kayla Mueller, an American woman held captive by the Islamist terror group ISIS, said Tuesday it has received confirmation that she is dead.

"We are heartbroken to share that we've received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller, has lost her life," a statement from the family reads.

"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.

On Friday, ISIS claimed that Mueller -- captured in northern Syria in 2013 -- had been killed in a building that was hit during a Jordanian airstrike on Raqqa, the militants' de facto capital in Syria. At the time, ISIS offered no proof to back up its claim, other than an image of a building in rubble.

Over the weekend, ISIS sent the family a private message, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Tuesday.

"Once this information was authenticated by the intelligence community, they concluded that Kayla was deceased," Meehan said.

The new information does not clarify how Mueller died, a law enforcement source familiar with the case said on condition of anonymity.

U.S. President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the young woman's family.

"Kayla's compassion and dedication to assisting those in need shows us that even amongst unconscionable evil, the essential decency of humanity can live on," Obama said in a statement released by the White House Tuesday.

Mueller's relatives on Tuesday also released a handwritten letter that they say she wrote while in captivity in spring 2014.

"It's hard to know what to say," the letter reads. "Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/the utmost respect + kindness."

Taken hostage in 2013

Mueller fell into the hands of hostage-takers in August 2013 in Aleppo, Syria, her family said, after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

Her family said ISIS contacted them in Mary with proof that she was alive. The militants eventually said they would kill her if the family didn't pay nearly $7 million by August 13, 2014, according to a source close to the family. What happened after that deadline is unclear.

A life serving others


Mueller, 26, made it her life's work to help others. After graduating from Northern Arizona University in 2009, she worked with humanitarian groups in northern India, Israel and Palestinian territories, a family spokeswoman said. In Israel, she volunteered at the African Refugee Development Center.

Mueller went back to Arizona in 2011, volunteered in a women's shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic, helping to facilitate events and providing local coordination for World AIDS Day, the family spokeswoman said.

After working for a year as an au pair in France, she traveled to the Turkish/Syrian border to work with the Danish Refugee Council and the humanitarian organization Support to Life, which assisted families who had been forced to flee their homes due to the civil war in Syria, the spokeswoman said.

In a YouTube video produced in October 2011, before the rise of ISIS, Mueller said she supported a sit-in that protested the Syrian regime.

"I am in solidarity with the Syrian people," she said. "I reject the brutality and killing that the Syrian authorities are committing against the Syrian people."

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The Family Statement

Carl and Marsha Mueller, the parents of Kayla Jean Mueller, together with Kayla’s brother Eric and his family, today released the following statement:

"We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller, has lost her life.

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."

In a letter to her father on his birthday in 2011, Kayla wrote:

'I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.’ I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.'

"Kayla was drawn to help those displaced by the Syrian civil war. She first traveled to Turkey in December, 2012 to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. She told us of the great joy she took in helping Syrian children and their families.

We are so proud of the person Kayla was and the work that she did while she was here with us. 

She lived with purpose, and we will work every day to honor her legacy.

Our hearts are breaking for our only daughter, but we will continue on in peace, dignity, and love for her.

We remain heartbroken, also, for the families of the other captives who did not make it home safely and who remain in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria."

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The Family has requested that in lieu of flowers and following Kayla’s mission of humanitarian work, donations be made to causes that Kayla would have supported. Additional information will be made available in the coming week.

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The family also released the copy of an unpublished letter (with transcription) Kayla wrote to her loved ones in the Spring of 2014, while in captivity.

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For those interested in learning more about Kayla, her passions and accomplishments, please visit www.forkayla.org, which was created by friends of Kayla while she was in captivity.

Kayla was captured in Syria on August 4, 2013 – 10 days before her 25th birthday.

Since graduating from Northern Arizona University in 2009 after only two and a half years, Kayla devoted her career to helping those in need in countries around the world.

The suffering of the Syrian refugees drew Kayla to the Turkish/Syrian border in December, 2012 to work with Support to Life, the Danish Refugee Council and other humanitarian organizations to assist families who had been forced to flee their homes.

Kayla found this work heartbreaking but compelling; she was extremely devoted to the people of Syria.

From her college graduation through 2011, she lived and worked with humanitarian aid groups in northern India, Israel and Palestine. She returned home to Arizona in 2011, and worked for one year at an HIV/AIDS clinic while volunteering at a women’s shelter at night.

Prior to her work in Syria, in December 2011, Kayla worked as an au pair in France to hone her fluency in French in preparation for her work in Africa.

The common thread of Kayla’s life has been her quiet leadership and strong desire to serve others.

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