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Prescott mourns Kayla Mueller death

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PRESCOTT – As her hometown mourned, family members remembered Kayla Mueller on Tuesday as a free spirit who wanted to be the voice of those who were suffering.

“The world wants to be more like Kayla,” Lori Lyon, Mueller’s aunt, said at a news conference held on behalf of the family. “If that is her legacy and the footprint that she leaves on the world, then that is a wonderful thing.”

Mueller’s parents, Carl and Marsha, and the White House confirmed Tuesday that the 26-year-old aid worker had died while being held captive by the Islamic State group. She was captured in 2013 in the city of Aleppo, Syria, while helping provide medical care to refugees.

Her captors claim that Mueller was killed in an airstrike by Jordan.

Lyon, joined by Terri Crippes, another of Mueller’s aunts, said the Northern Arizona University graduate found her passion as a humanitarian at a young age.

“Kayla’s calling was to help those who were suffering, whether in her hometown of Prescott or on the other side of the world,” Lyon said, reading a statement on behalf of Mueller’s family. “She has done more in her incredible 26 years than many people can ever imagine doing in their lifetime.”

The Rev. Kathleen Day, who heads the United Christian Ministry at NAU, recalled Mueller being part of a campus group that promoted world peace and made a trip to Guatemala. That passion continued as Mueller shared gripping accounts about the suffering in Syria and urged the world to help, Day said.

“It’s not that she was so angelic. It’s that she just saw things and did whatever she could, with whatever she could,” Day said. “It was just her heart, her mind, her guitar, her pen, her computer.”

After graduating from NAU in 2009, Mueller worked with a variety of humanitarian organizations in countries such as northern India, Israel, Palestine and France, her family said.

Mueller’s parents kept her captivity a secret as they worked with U.S. officials to try to win her release, but they confirmed it after her captors claimed last week that she was dead.

The family released a letter Tuesday that Mueller wrote in 2014 and that her captors shared.

“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 + I have a lot of fight left inside of me,” she wrote in the letter. “I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes,” the letter said.

Prescott residents Ross and Pamela Zappia attended the news conference and said they were shocked at the news. The couple said they occasionally saw her working at a store before she went abroad.

“When she told me she was going into missionary work, my heart sunk,” Pamela Zappia said. “My heart really goes out to the parents.”

Carol Thompson, who teaches political economy, international trade and finance NAU, said in a telephone interview from Zimbabwe that she had Mueller as a student and worked with her at the Flagstaff Peace Center, opposing war but welcoming student veterans.

“Kayla was very intellectual, very smart, and engaged herself in analyzing complexity even contradictions. She very much enjoyed discussing problems in that way,” said Thompson, who is on sabbatical.

“At the same time she was highly compassionate, and that combination was beautiful,” she added.

Thompson said Mueller died doing the work and engaging in the kid of relationships she wanted.

“What she would want is for all of us to engage also fighting for justice and against this highly inequitable world we have,” she said. “She would be asking that we choose engagement and try to change it. That was her life.”


Cronkite News reporter Kristen Hwang contributed to this report from Washington.