UPDATE: Family confirms American ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller's death
American Kayla Mueller's death was confirmed by her family Tuesday.
BY CASSANDRA VINOGRAD, NBC News
UPDATE: (NBC News) - American ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller is dead, the 26-year-old's family said Tuesday. The confirmation came four days after ISIS claimed the Arizona native had been killed by a coalition airstrike near Raqqa, Syria.
"We are heartbroken to share that we've received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller, has lost her life," Mueller's parents, Carl and Marsha, and brother Eric, said in a statement. "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 statement from Mueller's family did not elaborate on how it had learned of Mueller's death or the circumstances behind it.
U.S. officials would not confirm Mueller's cause of death or say when she died, telling NBC News only that the family had received a message from the aid worker's captors with information that American authorities were able to authenticate.
President Barack Obama expressed his "deepest condolences" on Mueller's death.
"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," he said in a statement calling ISIS a "hateful and abhorrent terrorist group."
Mueller — who had worked as a humanitarian aid worker — was captured in Syria in August 2013. Last week, ISIS claimed she had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike. At the time, U.S. officials said they could not confirm ISIS' claims.
Obama recently had stressed that the U.S. was deploying "all assets" to save the young aid worker, who was believed to be the last American hostage held by ISIS. Three others — James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Abdul-Rahman Kassig — were beheaded by ISIS militants.
Little was publicized about Mueller's ordeal before ISIS claimed her death: her family had requested her name be kept out of the press out of fears it would endanger her life.
That all changed last week when ISIS claimed Friday Mueller had been buried in the rubble of a building hit by Jordanian aircraft, which have been pounding the militants' targets in Syria following the immolation of one of the kingdom's captive fighter pilots.
Mueller's path to Syria was born out of a lifelong dedication to humanitarian work. She won several volunteering awards as a teen, focusing on causes such as the genocide in Darfur first in high school and later as a student at Northern Arizona University.
After graduating in 2009, Mueller worked with aid organizations in India, Israel and Palestine. While she returned home to Arizona in 2011 and spent a year working at an HIV/AIDS clinic and a women's shelter, Mueller ultimately went back overseas.
She traveled to France to work as an au pair and learn the language — initially with the aim of heading to Africa. Instead, she was overcome by the plight of the Syrian people and went to the Turkish-Syrian border to work with refugees in December 2012.
Mueller spoke of her experiences in Syria at her local Kiwanis club in May 2013, saying that she is often asked — once people learn she is American — "where is the world" by desperate refugees.
"All I can do is cry with them, because I don't know," she said, according to an article on the event in her local paper. "For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. (I will not let this be) something we just accept."
She worked in Turkey with the Danish Refugee Council and the "Support to Life" humanitarian aid organization. When Mueller was taken captive in Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 4, 2013, she was leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital.
In July of last year, Mueller was among the U.S. hostages Army Delta Force commandos attempted to rescue in an operation in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. U.S. officials said at the time that several ISIS fighters were killed in a gunbattle but the hostages were nowhere to be found — the commandoes had just missed them.