The Islamic State claimed Friday that a humanitarian aid worker being held captive by the militants was killed during a Jordanian air strike against the group in Syria.
The militants’ claim has yet to be confirmed. The White House and US intelligence officials have expressed skepticism about the statement, suggesting that it may have been a public relations ploy to deter Western nations from launching additional attacks on the group’s strongholds in the region.
Kayla Mueller had traveled to Syria to help children caught in the middle of the nation’s bloody civil war. That work was cut short in August 2013, when she was kidnapped while working at a hospital in Aleppo. Her family and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were aware that she was being held hostage by the Islamic State, but had previously decided to keep her name out of the press due to concerns for her safety.
If the reports prove to be accurate, that would make Ms. Mueller the fourth American citizen to die while being held captive by the Islamic State. She is believed to be the last US hostage held by the group.
Mueller was extremely devoted to her work, her parents, Marsha and Carl Mueller, said in a statement Friday.
“The suffering of the Syrian refugees drew Kayla to the Turkish/Syrian border ... to assist families who had been forced to flee their homes,” her parents said. “The common thread of Kayla’s life has been her quiet leadership and strong desire to serve others.”
Mueller has been politically active in humanitarian issues since her high school days. Her local paper profiled her in the September 2007 as she headed off to college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz.
By the time she was 19 years old, she had volunteered with the Save Darfur Coalition for three years, written letters to Congress, and organized silent local walks to raise awareness about the issue, according to the profile.
After graduating from college, she spent time in India teaching English to Tibetan refugee children in an orphanage, according to the BBC. She later spent a year working at an HIV/AIDS clinic in Arizona, volunteering at a women’s shelter at night.
Mueller traveled to the Mideast in late 2012. She spent time in Turkey helping refugee families fleeing violence in Syria with the Turkish humanitarian organization Support to Life.
Mueller spoke about her work with families and children in Syria at a Kiwanis Club in Prescott, Ariz., during a visit home in May 2013.
She shared with the group the joy of helping reunite a family that had become separated after their refugee camp had been bombed and she expressed sorrow and frustration at the level of attention that the Western world has paid to the crisis in Syria.
“This story is not rare in Syria,” Mueller said, according to a subsequent article in The Daily Courier. “This is the reality for Syrians for two and a half years on. When Syrians hear I’m an American, they ask, ‘Where is the world?’ All I can do is cry with them, because I don’t know.”
She clearly felt compelled to do what she could to make a difference – however small – in the lives of as many Syrians as possible.
“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal,” Mueller said. "[I will not let this be] something we just accept.”
[Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated when Ms. Mueller first travelled to the Middle East.]