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John M.
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  • Remembering Kayla Jean Mueller

    by Senator John McCain

    Posted on 2015-02-10

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    McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise today to mourn the tragic death of 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker Kayla Jean Mueller of Prescott, AZ, who had been held by ISIL terrorists in Syria since August of 2013.



    I am heartbroken for the Mueller family at the loss of their beautiful, beloved Kayla. The thoughts and prayers of the people of her home State of Arizona, our country, and the civilized world are with the Mueller family at this terrible hour.

    I want to take the time today to share a bit of Kayla's story. This wonderful young woman represented the best of us. She had a remarkable impact on the lives of so many people who never had the honor of meeting her, and her story will forever be an inspiration to us.

    Kayla attended high school at Tri-City College Prep in Prescott, AZ, where she was recognized as a National Young Leader and received the President's Award For Academic Excellence in 2007, the Yavapai County Community Foundation Youth Philanthropist of the Year Award in 2005, and the Gold Presidential Volunteer Award in 2007 for her volunteer efforts with Youth Count, AmeriCorps, America's Promise, Open Inn for troubled youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and other organizations.

    After graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in 2009, Kayla committed her life to helping people in need around the world--first in India, then Israel, the Palestinian territories, and back home in Prescott where she volunteered at an HIV-AIDS clinic, and a women's shelter. But it was the conflict in Syria that drew Kayla's greatest interest and, again, sparked her desire to help those in need. In a YouTube video she made in October 2011, as the Syrian civil war was just beginning, Kayla said: I am in solidarity with the Syrian people. I reject the brutality and killing that the Syrian authorities are committing against the Syrian people. Because silence is participation in this crime, I declare my participation in the Syrian sit-in on YouTube.

    In December 2012, Kayla traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border where she worked for months helping the thousands of Syrian refugees whose lives were torn apart by the humanitarian catastrophe created by Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian civil war.

    According to her family, Kayla found this work heartbreaking but compelling. She was extremely devoted to the people of Syria and their struggle. Kayla explained to her family her call to service this way. She said: I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you. I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.

    When Kayla traveled back home to visit her family in Arizona in May of 2013, she spoke about her experiences at the Prescott Kiwanis Club where her father was a member. After recalling helping a Syrian man, whose wife had been murdered, to reunite with a 6-year-old relative he was desperately searching for after their refugee camp was bombed, Kayla said: This story is not rare in Syria. This is the reality for Syrians two and a half years on. When Syrians hear I'm an American, they ask, ``Where is the world?'' All I can do is cry with them, because I don't know.

    After spending time with the refugees, Kayla told the Kiwanis Club she was totally drawn in, and that she ``can't do enough'' to help. She recalled stories of children being hurt by unexploded bombs, women forced into early marriages, elementary schools targeted for bombing by the Syrian regime, and people living in caves to escape the bombing.

    Kayla went on. She said: Syrians are dying by the thousands, and they're fighting just to talk about the rights we have. . . . For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. [I will not let this be] something we just accept. It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.

    She described part of her work helping the Syrian children in the refugee camps--including drawing, painting, and playing with the children, many of whom were badly scarred physically and psychologically by the war.

    She said: We give and get joy from playing with these children. Half the 1.5 million refugees the U.N. has registered are children. In the chaos of waking up in the middle of the night and being shelled, we're hearing of more children being separated from their families by accident.

    Asked by Kiwanis members what her recommendations for addressing the conflict were, Kayla said, ``A no-fly zone over refugee camps would be number one.'' Kayla also believed if the terrible reality of the conflict were better known to Americans, our Nation would be more heavily engaged. ``The people of the United States would see that something needs to be done,'' she said.

    Today the Mueller family released a letter written to them by Kayla in the spring of 2014. I want to read a bit of it to give a sense of this young woman, her deep faith in God, her profound love for her family, and her remarkable strength in the face of grave danger.

    She wrote: 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 because literally there was no one else. By God and by your prayers, I have felt tenderly cradled in free fall. I have been shown in darkness and light and have learned that even in prison one can be free. I am grateful. I have to see that 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 had been a decade of forced separation.

    Kayla closed with these words: 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, Kayla.

    In a statement today, the Mueller family reflected on Kayla's life and their commitment to work every day to honor her legacy: 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. Kayla was drawn to help those displaced by the Syrian civil war. She first traveled to Turkey in December 2012 to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. She told us of the great joy she took in helping Syrian children and their families. We are so proud of the person Kayla was and the work she did while she was here with us. She lived with purpose and we will work every day to honor her legacy. Our hearts are breaking for our only daughter, but we will continue on in peace, dignity and love for her.

    On behalf of the people of Arizona and the Congress of the United States, I express our deepest condolences to Kayla's parents, Marsha and Carl Mueller, her loving family, and many friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Kayla devoted her young life to helping people in need around the world, to healing the sick, and bringing light to some of the darkest and most desperate places on Earth. She will never be forgotten.

    I ask unanimous consent that the letter written by Kayla during her imprisonment to her family be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: Everyone, 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 you this letter. It's hard to know what to say.

    [[Page S889]] Please know that 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 all 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 literally there was no 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 that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each 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 family, 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 know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of 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, Kayla.

    Mr. McCAIN. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Lankford). The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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