The family of Kayla Jean Mueller, the 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker taken prisoner by the Islamic State group in August 2013, confirmed her death on Tuesday.
"We are heartbroken to share that we've received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller has lost her life," her parents said in a statement, according to the Washington Post. "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."
Mueller had traveled to Syria in late 2012 to help refugees caught in the country's civil war.
The family's statement wasn't the end of the story, however. It was accompanied by a heartbreaking — but ultimately hopeful — letter that the Arizona native wrote to her family while in captivity in 2014. Even while confined to a prison cell, Mueller's kindness and grace shone through — further proof that her courageous undertaking was simply part of who she was.
"I have been shown in darkness, light [and] have learned that, even in prison, one can be free," she wrote. "I am grateful. I have come to see there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness [and] surrender to God as well [and] have formed a bond of love [and] support amongst one another. I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation."
Here's the full, hand-written letter, courtesy of the Washington Post:
And here's a transcription, via Vox:
If you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cell mates (starting from 11/2/2014) have been released. I have asked them to contact you + send this letter. It's hard to know what to say. Please know I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.
I wanted to write you all a well thought out letter (but I didn't know if my cell mates would be leaving in the coming days or the coming months restricting my time but primarily) I could only but write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you sends me into a fit of tears.
If you could say I have "suffered" at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.
I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c there was literally no one else... + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.
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 there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another... I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation.
I have had many a long hour to think, to think of all the things I will do w/ Lex, our first family camping trip, the first meeting @ the airport. I have had many hours to think how only in your absence have I finally @ 25 years old come to realize your place in my life. The gift that is each one of you + the person I could + could not be if you were not a part of my life, my fmaily, my support. I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be
your duty, if there is any other option take it, even if it takes more time.
This should never have become your burden.
I have asked these women to support you; please seek their advice. If you have not done so already, [REDACTED] can contact [REDACTED] who may have a certain level of experience with these people. None of us could have known it would be this long but I know I am also fighting from my side in the ways that I am able + I have a lot of fight left in me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes.
I wrote a song some months ago that says, "The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left..." aka—The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength.
Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God's will we will be together soon.
All my everything,
The news of her death, which was confirmed by the FBI, comes just days after the Islamic State group alleged that Mueller had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike in Syria in retaliation for the group's gruesome execution of a Jordanian pilot. Despite the claim, her family had held out hope that she was still alive due to a lack of evidence provided by the militant Islamist group.
President Barack Obama offered his condolences on Tuesday, noting that Mueller had dedicated her life to helping others.
"Kayla Mueller used these freedoms she so cherished to improve the lives of others," the statement read.
"In how she lived her life, she epitomized all that is good in our world. She has been taken from us, but her legacy endures, inspiring all those who fight, each in their own way, for what is just and what is decent."