NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Family Confirms Death Of American Hostage Held By ISIS Militants


President Obama is promising to bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the death of Kayla Mueller. Her death is also raising new questions about the U.S. policy of not paying ransoms. The administration and Mueller's family confirmed today that the 26-year-old died in Syria. Last Friday, the self-proclaimed Islamic State said the American aid worker had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike. NPR's Martin Kaste has more.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The Mueller family was still hoping the news wasn't true until they got a message this weekend confirming Kayla's death. Intelligence officials think the information is legitimate. What's still in doubt is the Islamic State's claim that she was killed in an airstrike by the Jordanian Air Force. But White House spokesman Josh Earnest says one thing is clear.


JOSH EARNEST: ISIL, regardless of her cause of death, is responsible for it. This, after all, was the organization that was holding her against her will.

KASTE: ISIL is what the White House calls the Islamic State or ISIS. Kayla Mueller was captured in August of 2013, and her name was largely kept out of the media because her captors warned that publicity could get her killed. Friends did their best to stay quiet. Emily Schick is Kayla's college roommate.

EMILY SCHICK: For us it's been terrifying and really sad. It's been quite hard to not talk about Kayla.

KASTE: But now friends and family are opening up, describing Mueller as a woman with a strong desire to help others.

SCHICK: She is such a remarkable individual. And I really want her voice to be in the world, and just to give her a voice in all of this.

KASTE: It's also been a brutal 18 months for Kayla's parents, Marsha and Carl Mueller. The Islamic State demanded a $6 million ransom, money they didn't have. A source close to the family says she wasn't covered by any aide group's kidnapping and ransom insurance either. So late last year, her parents made a private fundraising video. NPR obtained a recording of it.


MARSHA MUELLER: Carl and I will travel anywhere at any to time to sit down face-to-face with anyone who might be able to help us raise the funds to free Kayla.

KASTE: Paying the ransom would likely violate federal law, but at the White House today, Josh Earnest was understanding.


EARNEST: It certainly is not surprising that they were willing to do whatever they thought they could to try to secure the safe release of their daughter.

KASTE: Earnest defended the U.S. policy of not paying ransom, something he says protects Americans in the long run. But others wonder whether Washington has been too inflexible. Theo Padnos is a journalist who was held by another group in Syria for 22 months. He points to reports that European hostages were held with Mueller and then freed while she stayed behind.

THEO PADNOS: I just cannot imagine what her life is not worth come concessions that somebody could've made. We just - we didn't come to this woman's aid when we could have. And we should have.

KASTE: The White House says it's doing an interagency review of how the government interacts with the families of hostages, but it's not reconsidering the policy of not paying ransom. 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.