Community to mourn with Kayla's family
PRESCOTT - Organizers and civic leaders are planning for high turnout at the memorial for Kayla Mueller at Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza in downtown Prescott starting at 6:30 p.m. today, Feb. 18.
Prescott area churches and community organizations planned the event to honor Mueller and her family. Mueller, 26, of Prescott, was a humanitarian aid worker who was killed while in the captivity of the Islamic State group in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.
She had been working in the Syrian-Turkish border region and traveled to Aleppo, also in northern Syria, in August 2013. Islamic State militants kidnapped her after she left a hospital in Aleppo, and she remained a prisoner for the next 18 months. The Islamic State said Feb. 6 she had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike, a claim that remains uncorroborated by the U.S. government. Her family and U.S. officials confirmed her death Feb. 10, based on information they received from her captors.
The memorial service Wednesday is free and open to the public.
Yavapai County Sheriff's Office Spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said the Sheriff's Office and Prescott Police Department are coordinating security for the event.
Parking around the courthouse will be restricted starting at 4 p.m. Prescott police Lt. Jon Brambila said parking on the west side of Cortez Street from Gurley Street to Goodwin Street will be reserved for television news trucks. To the north of the courthouse, parking will be prohibited on Gurley Street between Cortez Street and Montezuma Street.
Brambila said while Gurley Street could remain open during the event, city police will be prepared to close the street if the crowd grows too large for the north side of the courthouse plaza.
Even on a normal Wednesday evening, downtown parking fills up quickly, so attendees should plan on walking a block or more. All city parking lots will be open, including the 500-parking-space garage on Granite Street, one block west of the plaza.
"A fairly large crowd is expected so we ask that all who attend remain patient beginning with parking and as folks gather on the courthouse square," D'Evelyn said, adding that the family is thankful for community support over the past 12 days and "looking forward to honoring Kayla at this special service."
Organizers said the memorial will be conducted from a stage on the north side of the courthouse.
Vocalist Eppie Vicente and worship leaders from local churches will open the night with live music, followed by an introduction and opening prayer by Heights Church pastor Ron Merrell.
The Rev. Kathleen Day, of United Christian Ministry at Northern Arizona University and who spoke at a news conference on the plaza Feb. 10, will present a brief biography of Mueller's life.
Following Day, Mueller's brother, Eric, will share a personal reflection on his sister's life. His words will be the first live, public statements from Mueller's immediate family.
Her parents, Carl and Marsha, have made no public appearances since news of Mueller's death broke earlier this month. Her parents will be in attendance, but they do not plan on speaking, a spokesman for the family said.
Pastor Jon Wolfinger of Lumen Deo Church will follow Eric Mueller's comments with some words of comfort.
After Wolfinger speaks, Steve Francis, pastor at Mountaintop Christian Fellowship, will lead the lighting of the candles and moment of silence. Organizers ask attendees to bring their own candles.
The choir from Kayla's high school, Tri-City College Prep High School, will finish off the program, with a prayer and dismissal by Clovis Barnett, pastor at Cornerstone Church.
Memorial organizers welcome the general public's notes of encouragement to Mueller's family. Recognizing Mueller's passion for serving others, organizers also will collect canned food items to benefit Community Cupboard.
Those wishing to make a financial contribution can donate using the PayPal donate option at kaylashands.org, the website for the Kayla's Hands foundation, a nonprofit her parents created in her memory.
According to the website, "donations will be used to further Kayla's work." Among the charities listed on the site are Northland Cares, the HIV/AIDS clinic where Mueller volunteered in 2011; United Christian Ministry at Northern Arizona University; Prescott Kiwanis Foundation; Support to Life International Humanitarian Aid, one of the aid organizations Mueller worked with in the Turkish-Syrian border region; various women's homeless shelters; youth services; and other nonprofit organizations that "help families and especially children displaced by war, famine and natural disasters here in the US and all over the world."
Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowen