Prescott's daughter: Town gathers for Kayla Jean Mueller's vigil
Originally Published: February 18, 2015 10 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Ash Wednesday was particularly poignant in Prescott as nearly 2,000 people gathered in the evening on the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza to honor Kayla Mueller and her family.Mueller, 26, of Prescott, was a humanitarian aid worker in the Syrian-Turkish border region before she was kidnapped Aug. 4, 2013, after leaving a hospital in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The Islamic State group in Syria claimed she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike in Raqqa, also in northern Syria."We're here tonight to rally as a community, and to offer hope and comfort and encouragement," said Ron Merrell, pastor at The Heights Church. "That's something Prescott is good at."But we're also here tonight to shine some light in the darkest of times, and that is something that Kayla Mueller was good at."As many of those who attended the service still had smudges of ash on their foreheads, the timing of the memorial on the day many Christians renew their faith at the start of Lent was not lost as speakers compared the Mueller's service to Christian values.The memorial culminated in a candlelight service, that Steve Francis, pastor at Mountaintop Christian Fellowship, compared to the way Mueller shared her compassion and "the one true light" of God. Calling her service-minded, Merrell said Mueller lived her life "with purpose to love people as God loves people, and to serve them as God served us, so much so that he laid down his life for us. And Kayla was willing to pay the ultimate price."Mueller's brother, Eric, broke the silence of her immediate family, who have made no public comments since they learned of her death Feb. 6.His brief comments were a personal reflection on the relationship with his sister."You were my first friend, my best friend, my only sister," he said. "I love you. You can rest in peace knowing you changed this world."The Rev. Kathleen Day, who heads up United Christian Ministry at Northern Arizona University, expressed thanks on behalf of the Mueller family."They pour out their gratitude for you," Day said, adding a request on behalf of the family to also remember other Americans killed while prisoners of the Islamic State, including James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig.She referred to Mueller's own words, written in a letter in late 2014 while she was imprisoned, telling her family that "by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light and have learned that even in prison, one can be free."Day said Mueller's family too had been "cradled in freefall" and had felt the love of God and their community.She described her personal friendship with Mueller, who was involved with the ministry while she was a student at NAU, leading outreach efforts to encourage veterans to seek their education at the University and service in the Coconino County jail that, for Mueller, didn't end when the project concluded."Kayla exuded a quiet joy and kindness," Day said, adding that Mueller loved people of all walks of life, of all faiths and in all parts of the world.She said Kayla's passion for service grew out of the faith love, compassion and justice she learned from her family and community."We honor Kayla best when we lift the light of compassion and justice and care to those in need," Day said.She finished with the Beatitudes from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, pausing after the ninth verse: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."Jon Wolfinger, pastor at Lumen Deo, offered words of comfort, centering on the faith, hope and the compassion Mueller shared."There is much in her life that has struck a chord in hearts all around the world," he said. "What resonates in our hearts and what we admire and adore in Kayla, we see in the Lord Jesus Christ."Clovis Barnett, pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, reminded memorial attendees to continue Mueller's example. He thanked those who donated canned food items, which will be given to Community Cupboard, and encouraged them to continue their charity.Mueller's family created the Kayla's Hands Foundation, which has a donation option at kaylashands.org. According to the website, "donations will be used to further Kayla's work."Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowenMobile users click here for video