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Jordan, U.S. dispute Islamic State claim of how Kayla Mueller died

The family of Kayla Jean Mueller confirmed that the 26-year-old aid worker has been killed. Over the weekend, Islamic State militants sent them unspecified evidence of their daughter's death. The Arizona native was working with refugees on the Turkey-Syria border when she was taken captive in 2013. Gwen Ifill reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    An American family mourned today the loss of a daughter in Syria. Kayla Mueller was the latest American to die at the hands of the Islamic State group, and news of her death hit hard.

  • LORI LYON, Kayla Mueller’s Aunt:

    Kayla's calling was to help those who were suffering, whether in her hometown of Prescott or on the other side of the world. She has done more in her incredible 26 years than many people could ever imagine doing in their lifetime.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Kayla Mueller's parents remained secluded today at their home in Prescott, Arizona, dispatching friends and family instead to give voice to their grief.

    Over the weekend, Islamic State militants sent them unspecified information confirming their daughter's death. The 26-year-old aid worker had been a hostage since August of 2013, when she was kidnapped leaving a hospital in Aleppo, Syria. On Friday, her captors claimed a Jordanian airstrike killed Mueller when it destroyed this building in Raqqa, Syria.

    Jordan disputed the claim, and, today, White House spokesman Josh Earnest did as well.

  • JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:

    And the information that we have is that there is no evidence of civilians in the target area prior to the coalition strike taking place. And that certainly would call into question the claims that are made by ISIL.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Earnest said U.S. intelligence has not been able to determine when or how Mueller died, but he made clear, regardless of the cause, there's no doubt who bears the blame.

  • JOSH EARNEST:

    Is that ISIL, regardless of her cause of death, is responsible for it. This, after all, is the organization that was holding her against her will. That means they are responsible for her safety and her well-being. And they are, therefore, responsible for her death.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And, in a statement, the president promised action, writing, "No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla's captivity and death."

    Officials said President Obama phoned Mueller's family to convey his condolences. Details of what happened to Mueller during her long months of captivity remain murky. But her parents today released a letter they received from her last spring.

    In it, she wrote that she was in a safe location and unharmed, and said she was remaining strong. "I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able," she said. "I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I will not give in, no matter how long it takes."

    Mueller was the fourth American hostage killed while in Islamic State captivity. Three others, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig, were beheaded by the terrorist group last year. Journalist Austin Tice is still being held in the region, but it's unclear who his captors are.

    In an interview with the Web site BuzzFeed, President Obama said telling families the U.S. won't pay ransom is — quote — "as tough as anything I do."

    Kayla Mueller's death underscores the dilemma the U.S. is grappling with as it seeks to dismantle the Islamic State. We will turn to President Obama's call for new authority to meet that challenge right after the news summary.

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