ISIS killed my friend

No, we weren’t close. I hadn’t spoken to my college friend since, well, college because she was criss-crossing the globe, kindly educating everyone she met and spreading socially and environmentally conscious messages with unbridled love. She supported the downtrodden, cared for the sick and would give a stranger her jacket if required. I hadn’t spoken to my college friend because she was busy being a selfless human being until the Islamic State took her hostage in August of 2013.

Kayla Mueller and I both lived in Cowden Hall freshman year at Northern Arizona University. We were both interested in environmental protection and the intrinsic poetry of the French language. We went to open mic nights at Applesauce Teahouse and sat through classes together. She was a constant volunteer with local activist groups like Food Not Bombs, and she was always smiling.

I have always dreamed of traveling to India to teach English or help in any way possible. Kayla, though, she did it and didn’t stop until she was kidnapped—but knowing her, even that couldn’t silence her heart.

At my small newspaper in Flagstaff, Arizona, we have a television in the newsroom. Audio seldom blares from the internal speakers, but CNN is a permanent fixture on the bubble screen. Today, Friday, February 6, I was headed outside to smoke a cigarette despite my raw sickness-scorched throat and I caught a glimpse of a dark-haired girl with a brilliant, wide smile flash across the screen. Our managing editor Larry Hendrix stood watching the ticker fly. BREAKING NEWS. ISIS: U.S. HOSTAGE KILLED IN AIRSTRIKE.

“Who was that girl?” I asked.

“A girl born in Prescott, a graduate of NAU,” he replied, solemn. “Kayla Mueller.”

“She looks so familiar.”

The name I hadn’t heard in years haunted me. How did I know that name?

I went back to my desk and pulled up the story on, Flagstaff’s NPR station, and reality hit me like a cinderblock thrown from an overpass. There she was, the smiling woman I had watched read poems, traveled to Phoenix with, exchanged ideas with—she was plastered across the webpages of nearly every media outlet in the world like a rote highway billboard.

Kayla allegedly died as the single casualty of a Jordanian airstrike on Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. I had no idea she was in Syria to begin with, but learned she had been abducted 18 months prior when she walked out of a Doctors Without Borders hospital. Since the events surrounding her alleged demise came to light, skeptics remain uncertain she was in the weapons warehouse a Jordan warplane supposedly leveled. What remains is she traveled across the world to help families torn apart by war, and became a casualty herself.

Propaganda is a powerful tool, but why Kayla? Why a sweet girl from Prescott, Arizona? The power behind ISIS lay in fear—they operate, brutally, through mind-bending tactics designed to scare the masses, and entire countries, to fall on their side for sheer numbers’ sake. Kayla was not afraid, and I believe that is why she was killed. I believe she was slain months before, maybe even more than a year ago because she was filled with purpose that went against that of her captor(s.)

Kayla never intended to make the news for anything she did, whether she was caring for locals with HIV/AIDS, volunteering in India or Africa or anywhere else halfway across the world. She rallied for the sick, war-ravaged, systematically depressed citizens from Flagstaff to Palestine because she believed in herself and her calling, and she paid with the most valuable currency because she listened to that voice. It was her wish to lead by example because there is righteous strength in numbers. Today I learned ISIS killed my friend, and I will use my voice to carry hers.


%d bloggers like this: