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American Hostage's Parents Say They Hope She Is Alive


U.S. government officials say that there is still no confirmation of the death of the U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller. The group known as the Islamic State claimed yesterday that Kayla Mueller had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike. Her parents Carl and Marsha Mueller have released a statement expressing their concern over the news and their hope that their daughter's still alive. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, Kayla Mueller was kidnapped a year and a half ago, but her name has been mostly kept out of the news until now.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Mueller grew up in Prescott, Ariz., where she was known for her idealism and her eagerness to help.

LINDA BALLARD: Very upbeat, very happy to be doing what she was doing.

KASTE: That's Linda Ballard at the local Kiwanis Club. She's recalling a talk that Mueller gave when she was home for a visit in 2013. Mueller told the club about her work with Syrian refugees on the Turkish border.

BALLARD: Kayla's a great humanitarian - just loved the work she did in Turkey, helping the kids get out of Syria.

KASTE: But Mueller didn't stay on the Turkish side of the border. For reasons that aren't clear, in August of 2013, she was in Aleppo, Syria, at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. That organization says she was not one of their employees. They say she came to the hospital in the company of a technician who was there to make repairs. But as they were leaving the hospital, they were captured, and that's when the ordeal began for Mueller's parents Carl and Marsha Mueller. More than a year after their daughter's abduction, they made this video.


MARSHA MUELLER: We know that Kayla's alive. We have repeatedly received proof of life in the form of three letters from Kayla, emails from her captors and verbally from released hostages who saw and spoke of Kayla as recently as this October.

KASTE: They made this video as part of a low-profile effort to find well-heeled donors to help pay the ransom. ISIS demanded about $6 million. It also told the Mueller's not to go public, and major media organizations refrained from identifying Kayla Mueller by name for fear of getting her killed. The demand for secrecy gave the family some reason for hope. Here's her father Carl Mueller in that same video.


CARL MUELLER: ISIS has not yet executed a female hostage and we believe that they are reluctant to do so. Male hostages who were abducted at the same time or after Kayla have already been executed while she remains alive.

KASTE: For this same reason, there's now skepticism about the ISIS claim that Mueller was killed by the Jordanians. That seems too convenient, especially if ISIS really was worried about being seen to murder a woman. In Prescott, Ariz., Linda Ballard says members of the Kiwanis Club are praying for Mueller and hoping that the news of her death simply isn't true. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.