Parents of Aid Worker Slain in ISIS Custody Appear at RNC to Thank Trump Administration for 'Empathy'
"All Kayla wanted was to make it home," her mom said
Holding up a photo of their late daughter, the parents of Kayla Mueller said during Thursday's Republican National Convention that they're still working to find her body after she was kidnapped in 2013 by Islamic State militants while providing humanitarian aid in Syria.
"All Kayla wanted was to make it home," said Marsha Mueller, while her husband, Carl Mueller, held up a photo of Kayla at her side. "We're still working to find her and, God willing, we will bring her home."
The 26-year-old was abducted by ISIS while leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2013. She remained missing for a year and a half before U.S. officials confirmed her death in February 2015.
President Donald Trump, 74, announced in October that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — who officials say raped Kayla while she was held captive, during which she was also tortured — had been killed in a military mission, which Trump described as being in honor of Kayla's memory.
After his announcement, her Arizona parents thanked the president and appeared to blame former President Barack Obama's administration in an Arizona Republic interview, saying that it did not fully seek answers to their daughter's disappearance.
The Muellers became increasingly critical of Obama after their daughter was taken hostage.
"I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump maybe she would have been," Marsha told the paper.
They repeated those beliefs Thursday, accusing the Obama administration of doing too little and thanking Trump's administration for its effort in tracking down al-Baghdadi, as well as the soldiers who carried out the mission that led to his death.
"The Trump team gave us empathy we never received from the Obama administration," Carl said. "Kayla should be here. If Donald Trump had been president when Kayla was captive, she would be here today."
“For 18 months she endured, and we endured an agonizing back-and-forth between us, the Obama administration and ISIS,” Carl continued. “We put all our faith in the government, but the government let us down. President Obama refused to meet with us until ISIS had already beheaded other Americans. To this day, we’ve never heard from Joe Biden.”
(Biden tweeted in February 2015 that he was "deeply moved by the life of Kayla Mueller. Our nation is stronger than any enemy can understand." A Biden campaign spokesman declined to comment on Kayla's parents' RNC speech.)
Kayla was taken by ISIS in in 2013 while in Aleppo, Syria, where she was leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital, according to ABC News, along with her boyfriend Omar Alkhani, a contractor, who was also kidnapped.
ISIS said that Kayla was killed by a Jordanian airstrike that February, and her death was confirmed by her family; though officials disputed the exact circumstances and Jordan denied involvement.
Her body was never recovered, while Carl and Marsha say they took efforts upon themselves to track down more information about their daughter's disappearance.
The couple said last October they had once reached out and spoke with Umm Sayyaf, the wife of an ISIS member who helped keep their daughter captive, according to ABC News.
"When we talked to Umm Sayyaf, we found we got more information out of her, not just us, the people backing us — they got information from her that neither the Kurds or the US government had got in the two days that we were there," Carl told ABC. "It makes a big difference when you are talking to these people with a humanitarian attitude. We don't care what you did, what you've done — we just want to know what you know about our daughter to bring her home."
In their RNC remarks Thursday, which marked an overtly political turn, Marsha said that she and her husband believe Trump was committed to keeping the country safe "not with the power of the government, but with the passion of people like Kayla — Americans who, even in the darkest days, always have more fight left inside of them.”
Trump accepted the GOP nomination in a speech later Thursday night.
The Mueller's endorsement comes as the Trump administration aimed this week to paint the president as a strong leader both domestically and in foreign affairs, highlighting al-Baghdadi's killing along with the January killing of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was the commander of Iran’s Quds Force.
At the same time, Trump has faced criticism both for domestic issues — such as the ongoing protests against racial injustice — as well as his friendly attitude toward autocratic leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong-Un.