The parents of Kayla Mueller, who was held hostage by Islamic State (ISIS) militants for 1.5 years, have gone public with a horrifying account of her final months in captivity that included claims she was repeatedly raped by the group’s leader Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi.
Carl and Marsha Mueller spoke to the Associated Press on Friday, the day their daughter – whose death was reported in February – would have turned 27. U.S. intelligence officials briefed the family on Mueller’s ordeal in June based on information they learned from another hostage who escaped from the house in the Syrian town of al-Shadadiya, where the Prescott, Ariz., native had been held.
Besides being routinely abused by their captors, whenever al-Baghdadi arrived at the residence he would routinely take Mueller to his bedroom. “They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means,” Carl Mueller said, according to The Arizona Republic.
Her mother added: “Kayla did not marry this man. He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”
Despite the abuse, Mueller, who was older than the other hostages, did her best to shield the other captives – all of whom were Yazidi teenagers – from harm. “Kayla tried to protect these young girls,” her mother said. “She was like a mother figure to them.”
In a letter written in November 2014 that was later given to a released French captive, Mueller wrote of her resolve to survive: “I am not breaking down and I will not give in no matter how long it takes.” She went on to speak about how she had “formed a bond of love and support” for the other hostages.
Mueller was so concerned about protecting the other captives that she declined to escape with two of the girls because she feared her appearance would put them at risk of being caught.
The exact cause of Mueller’s death is still unknown and ISIS has claimed she died during a Jordanian air strike near the group’s capital in the Syrian town of Raqqa.
Mueller was abducted in Syria in August 2013 after asking her boyfriend – who was working with the group Spanish Doctors Without Borders – to let her accompany him there so she could help provide humanitarian support to locals affected by the ongoing conflict.