More than seven years after she was kidnapped in Syria and later died, Arizona’s Kayla Mueller became a centerpiece name in Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate.
Vice President Mike Pence, during a debate with Democratic nominee Sen. Kamala Harris, invoked the story of Mueller, who was tortured and raped while being held hostage by ISIS during the years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Pence cited Mueller’s parents’ previous remarks supporting President Donald Trump.
“Her family says with a heart that broke the heart of every American that if President Donald Trump had been president they believe Kayla would be alive today,” Pence said.
Earlier the same day, the Justice Department announced two British ISIS militants would face terrorism charges in the deaths of Mueller and other hostages.
“We put all our faith in government, but the government let us down,” Carl Mueller, Kayla’s father, said at the announcement of the charges.
Who was Kayla Mueller?
Kayla Mueller, who grew up in Prescott and attended Northern Arizona University, later traveled the world working as a humanitarian and volunteer. She was working for an aid group in Turkey in August 2013 when she accompanied a friend who was crossing into Syria to work in the city of Aleppo.
Inside Syria, where a years-long civil war was further clouded by the rising influence of ISIS, Mueller was soon captured.
She was held for 18 months, and other captives later reported she endured rape and torture at the hands of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former ISIS leader.
American officials and Muellers’ parents struggled, mostly in secret, to find and free her. In February 2015, her captors announced she had died.
Al-Baghdadi was killed during a U.S.-led raid in Syria in 2019, during Trump’s administration.
Other ISIS captors had been taken into custody, including the two who were charged Wednesday.
Other American victims of the ISIS captors were print and video journalist James Foley, who was covering the war in Syria when he was captured; Steven Sotloff, a journalist who covered the Middle East and was reporting on the refugee crisis in Syria; Peter Kassig, a humanitarian aid worker; and Mueller, also a humanitarian aid worker.
ISIS released videos in 2014 showing the beheadings of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig. Mueller’s death was announced on social media, though her parents have never recovered her remains.
Why did Pence mention Mueller?
In the years since the ordeal, Mueller’s parents have become outspoken Trump supporters, and Carl Mueller has appeared on stage at Trump rallies in Arizona.
On Wednesday night, during responses to a question about “the role of American leadership in 2020,” Pence called out the case specifically — and criticized the response of Obama and Joe Biden, now the presidential nominee, who was vice president at the time.
“Al-Baghdadi was responsible for the death of thousands,” Pence said. “And notably with America’s hearts today are with the family of Kayla Mueller — her parents of which are here with us tonight in Salt Lake City. Today, two of the ISIS killers responsible for Kayla Mueller’s murder were brought to justice in the United States.”