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Aid Worker Held By ISIS Put Beliefs Into Action, Friends Say

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Kayla Mueller is being remembered as a young woman who put her beliefs into action. Yesterday, U.S. officials confirmed the death of this 26-year-old humanitarian worker from Arizona who had been kidnapped and held hostage by ISIS. Here's Gillian Ferris of Arizona Public Radio.

GILLIAN FERRIS, BYLINE: Kayla Mueller earned a political science degree from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in 2009. And in the process, she earned a reputation among her peers and professors for having a profound sense of compassion.

LORI POLONI-STAUDINGER: She really took what she learned in the classroom and put it into practice in the world around her.

FERRIS: Lori Poloni-Staudinger is chair of the department of politics and international affairs at NAU. She had Mueller in several classes and was shocked to hear of her death.

POLONI-STAUDINGER: It's a horrible, horrible situation, but we're very proud of everything she achieved. And I think that anyone who knows her can hold their head high to be proud of what she went on to try to live.

FERRIS: Mueller's interest in humanitarianism began early. As a high school student in Prescott, she volunteered with organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters. In college, she worked with Food Not Bombs, often leading demonstrations to generate awareness. Diandra Markgraf was a friend and classmate.

DIANDRA MARKGRAF: She was so good at engaging the public and engaging her peers, whether they were younger or older, and she could get the spark out of them.

FERRIS: After college, Mueller worked at a women's shelter and an HIV/AIDS clinic in her hometown. She traveled to India and Africa on aid missions. Eventually, she went to Syria to work with refugees of the civil war. It was a mission that, ultimately, she gave her life for. Mueller's friend Diandra Markgraf says her selflessness was second to none.

MARKGRAF: So it's something that I hope to do is to pay kind gestures forward to my own community members, my co-workers, my colleagues, my friends, people on the street. I hope to do that for her.

FERRIS: Friends say Kayla Mueller lived by her belief that peace is not something you wish for; it's something you make. For NPR News, I'm Gillian Ferris in Flagstaff. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gillian came to KNAU in 2001 as a freelance reporter. Her first story won an Arizona Associated Press Award. Since then, Gillian has won more than a dozen Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting, writing and documentary work. She served as the local anchor for NPR’s Morning Edition for 8 years before moving into a full time reporting position in 2012. Gillian covers everything from environmental issues to sports, with a penchant for human interest stories of all kinds. When she’s not working, Gillian revels in the natural world and is an avid hiker, skier, swimmer, river runner and surfer. She also enjoys making fancy cakes and reorganizing her collection of fabulous shoes… 70 pairs and counting.
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