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Lawmakers send condolences, express outrage over Kayla Mueller’s death

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WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers praised the humanitarian work of Kayla Mueller and offered condolences to her family Tuesday after the White House confirmed ISIS claims that the former Prescott resident was dead.

The terrorist group said that Mueller, held hostage since August 2013, was killed Friday in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials were not able to confirm her death until Tuesday.

“Since Friday, my office’s phone lines have not stopped ringing with thoughts of love and prayer for Kayla’s safe return,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, in a statement from his office. “I can only imagine the solemn pride that Kayla’s parents must feel for raising a woman who made such a positive impact on so many.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, took to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon and read part of a letter Mueller wrote to her family in 2014, after she was captured, detailing her love for them and her hope that they find strength in God.

“On behalf of the people of Arizona and the U.S. Congress, I want to express our deepest condolences to Kayla’s parents, Marsha and Carl Mueller, her loving family and many friends,” said McCain, who paused to compose himself. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

But even as they were offering tributes and condolences, some lawmakers were expressing dismay at the what they see as a lack of intervention against ISIS, with McCain saying President Barack Obama was “delusional and in denial.”

“We haven’t fought these people,” McCain said. “We need to fight them, and we need to destroy them, and the president of the United States has no strategy to achieve that.”

But Obama vowed that ISIS would be held accountable.

“Kayla represents what is best about America,” he said, in a statement released by the White House. “(She) used these freedoms she so cherished to improve the lives of others.

“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,” his statement said.

The White House confirmed Tuesday that Mueller had died, but did not release details on her death.

ISIS claimed Friday Mueller died when a Jordanian airstrike destroyed the building where she was being held. Photos released by the Islamic State militants show a collapsed building surrounded by rubble.

A White House spokesman said U.S. intelligence has not been able to determine the time or cause of Mueller’s death from the information ISIS sent the Mueller family over the weekend.

Mueller, 26, was taken captive outside of a hospital in Syria in August 2013 where she was helping Syrian refugees. Her devotion to helping those in need had previously led her to India, Israel and France. Even in her home state, Mueller volunteered at a women’s shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic in Prescott.

Mueller graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She began working with humanitarian aid groups around the world shortly thereafter.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, said in a statement that Mueller’s death “is felt around the world, but there is nowhere it cuts deeper than here at home in Arizona.”

“Kayla grew up here, played in our playgrounds, studied at our schools, and volunteered in our community,” Kirkpatrick’s statement said. “But she didn’t stay here – she was compelled by compassion to work in faraway places devastated by war and violence.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said staff members in his district office had been working to help the family when they learned of Mueller’s death.

“All of us were holding out hope that ISIS was using this as a propaganda tool,” Grijalva said in a phone interview. “One of ours – a good person – was out doing the best she could to help people who were suffering. That’s what makes it so tragic.”

Grijalva disagreed with those calling for stronger action against ISIS, saying that Arab nations need to take the lead in stopping the “horrific treatment of human beings on the part of ISIS.”

“Our military presence is never going to be sufficient. We learned that in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the U.S. should continue being a strong supporter in the region.

Kirkpatrick and Gosar are scheduled to lead the House a moment of silence in Mueller’s memory at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, McCain and fellow Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake read a quote from another letter Mueller had sent her family from captivity.

“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.”