The last American hostage of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is dead. She was a 26-year-old humanitarian from Prescott, Arizona. Her name was Kayla Jean Mueller.
Mueller was the fourth American hostage of ISIS to die while still in captivity. She was also the second Millennial to be killed while being held by the terrorist organization.
Over the weekend, her family received a private message from her captors stating that she had died. ISIS claims she was killed as a consequence of a Jordanian airstrike in Raqqa, Syria.
US intelligence officials confirmed the authenticity of this message, but did not provide any information on the cause or time of Kayla's death.
On Tuesday morning, Kayla's family publicly acknowledged her senseless and tragic death, stating:
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.
Indeed, the world could use more people like Kayla. She was the antithesis of ISIS, and a beacon of hope in the midst of violence and chaos.
A Dedicated Humanitarian And True Hero
It's exceptionally tragic that such an altruistic and courageous individual was taken from this world prematurely. Kayla was a fearless humanitarian and a true citizen of the world. She'd dedicated her life to the service of others.
In August 2013, she was kidnapped off a street in Aleppo, Syria. At that time, Kayla had been working with a group from Doctors Without Borders (MSF), along the Turkish-Syrian border.
If you haven't been following the news lately, this is one of the most dangerous locations in the world at present. It's also the site of one of the largest refugee crises in recent history.
In May 2013, Kayla's local newspaper, The Daily Courier, interviewed her about her experiences working with Syrian refugees. She stated:
Syrians are dying by the thousands, and they're fighting just to talk about the rights we have. For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. (I will not let this be) something we just accept. It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.
The situation in Syria was unacceptable to Kayla, she felt it was her duty to help. She believed those with the ability to combat human suffering have an obligation to, no matter where it's occurring in the world.
Before she went to Turkey in December 2012, Kayla was already an active and experienced humanitarian.
During college, she was involved in the Save Darfur Coalition. She also volunteered at a women's homeless shelter and an HIV-AIDS clinic in her hometown.
After she graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2009, she did aid work in India, Israel and Palestine.
Kayla was a true hero, and a model for all of us.
Kayla Mueller Was Everything America Should Stand For
If more Americans were like Kayla, we would live in a decidedly better world. She selflessly immersed herself in one of the most violent and destructive environments in the world in order to help complete strangers.
Kayla was a testament to the fact that borders are an illusion and a social construct. She epitomized the notion that we live in an interconnected world in which the privileged and strong must assist the weak.
It's easy to view our dynamic and convoluted planet as a large puzzle of distinct ethnicities, nationalities and cultures. Yet, this narrow outlook also blinds us from recognizing that our common humanity binds us all together. We all have to share this world.
Likewise, as President Obama stated following the announcement of her death:
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. Kayla represents what is best about America, and expressed her deep pride in the freedoms that we Americans enjoy, and that so many others strive for around the world. Kayla Mueller used these freedoms she so cherished to improve the lives of others.
Thus, Kayla Mueller reminds us what we are meant to stand for, and the values upon which this country was founded. She was fully cognizant of America's immense privileges, as well as its complex role in global affairs.
It's no secret that America has many dark and destructive chapters in its short but storied history. This is particularly true in terms of its foreign policy, especially in relation to the Middle East.
Our freedoms are a consequence of a complicated history that includes both inspiring and shameful segments. We take our freedoms and privileges for granted far too often.
This is why Kayla fought vigorously to defend the rights of people both at home and abroad. Correspondingly, she once stated:
Here we are. Free to speak out without fear of being killed, blessed to be protected by the same law we are subjected to, free to see our families as we please, free to cross borders and free to disagree. We have many people to thank for these freedoms and I see it as an injustice not to use them to their fullest.
While she was still in captivity, Kayla wrote a letter to her family.
She was a prisoner of a psychotic group of bloodthirsty extremists, but she refused to let that break her spirit, writing, "I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it."
ISIS desires to spread destruction and despair throughout this world, but Kayla will stand as a perpetual reminder that there are always reasons to remain hopeful.
Citations: ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller Wrote From Captivity I Have a Lot of Fight Left (NBC News), White House confirms death of aid worker (USA Today), Kayla Muellers Parents Say They Have Been Notified Of Her Death (Huffington Post), Statements on death of Kayla Mueller (The Arizona Republic), PARENTS OF AMERICAN WOMAN HELD BY IS NOTIFIED OF HER DEATH (AP), Kayla Mueller The Best of America (The Daily Beast), American ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller Is Dead Family Says u2028 (NBC News), Death of American Islamic State Hostage Kayla Mueller Confirmed (Vice News), The worlds pitiful response to Syrias refugee crisis (Amnesty International), Prescott woman gives aid to Syrian refugees (The Daily Courier), Statement by the President on the Death of Kayla Jean Mueller (White House)