The parents of 26-year-old American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who died in 2015 while being held captive by ISIS, delivered a raw and emotional speech on the last night of the Republican National Convention about her capture and torture in Syria.
Carl and Marsha Mueller, one of the last few speakers on Thursday, spoke of Kayla's generosity and her work as a humanitarian aid worker.
"Everywhere Kayla went, people smiled," Marsha Mueller said. "Kayla had a gift to be able to see the world through someone else’s eyes."
Kayla had traveled to Turkey to work with Syrian refugees in 2012, and the year after crossed the border into Syria to help at a hospital. ISIS kidnapped her in August 2013.
On Thursday night, her parents spoke of the brutality she faced in captivity.
"Kayla was mostly held in a 12-by-12 cell in solitary confinement," Carl Mueller said. "It was cold and dirty. ISIS terrorists shined bright lights in her face. They shaved her head. They beat her and tortured her. The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, raped her repeatedly."
She was held hostage for 18 months. In February 2015, her family and the Obama administration both confirmed that she had died, though her parents and US officials disagreed over who killed her. Her body was never recovered.
"All Kayla wanted was to make it home," Marsha Mueller said. "We are still working to find her and, God willing, we will bring her home."
Her mom also read aloud a letter she wrote to her family that was smuggled out of Syria by another hostage — a letter that showed them "God was holding her in His arms."
"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 and I have a lot of fight left inside of me," Marsha Mueller said, reading the letter. "I am not breaking down and I will not give in no matter how long it takes."
The Muellers spoke of their daughter's suffering while criticizing the Obama administration's failure to rescue her. They said they supported President Donald Trump's reelection and praised the raid on al-Baghdadi's compound in October 2019 during an operation named after Kayla.
Baghdadi died during the raid by suicide, Trump said at the time.
"The operators named themselves 'Task Force 814' after Aug. 14, Kayla’s birthday. And they named the mission Operation Kayla Mueller. To those soldiers: thank you. Kayla was looking down on you," Carl Mueller said.
"The Trump team gave us empathy we never received from the Obama administration," he continued. "The Obama administration said it was doing everything it could. The Trump administration actually is."
Obama told BuzzFeed News in 2015 that he deployed an operation "at significant risk" to rescue Kayla and other hostages, "and probably missed them by a day or two."
He said the government held to a policy of not paying ransoms to terrorist organizations in Kayla's case because if it did not, "not only are we financing their slaughter of innocent people and strengthening their organization, but we're actually making Americans even greater targets for future kidnappings."
It was a policy that he acknowledged is hard to accept for families who were in situations like the Muellers.
"It's as tough as anything I do — having the conversation with parents who understandably want by any means necessary for their children to be safe," Obama said. "We will do everything we can short of providing an incentive for future Americans to be caught."