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American ISIS hostage Kayla Jean Mueller wanted to help Syrian kids

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- A hostage at the center of a conflict involving Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants is an aid worker who grew up in Arizona and was driven by her calling to help children whose lives were ripped apart by war.

Jordan dismisses claims it killed ISIS' American hostage

Kayla Mueller described her mission during a speech to the Prescott Kiwanis Club, where her father is a member, during a visit home in May 2013.

"For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal," said Mueller, whose remarks were reported by The Daily Courier in Prescott. "It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done."

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Kayla Jean Mueller Mueller family photo

A purported statement by ISIS claimed Mueller, 26, was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on Friday in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremist group's main stronghold.

The White House has "not at this time seen any evidence that corroborates" the claim, said Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council. The statement included photos allegedly of the bombed site but no images of Mueller.

"We are obviously deeply concerned by these reports," Meehan said.

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Jordan has been launching increased airstrikes against ISIS in response to a video released this week that shows a captive Jordanian pilot being burned to death in a cage.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that a U.S. military officer said the building that ISIS claims the U.S. hostage was in "was a weapons storage facility, not anything that was assessed to be a hostage holding area."

"We would not strike a facility that was a known or possible hostage facility," the officer said.

The officer acknowledged that does not rule out the possibility that the American hostage could have been moved into the building either before or after the strike. He also confirmed that the targets went through the vetting process.

ISIS claims airstrikes killed American hostage

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan was looking into the claim.

"But as a first reaction, we think it's illogical and we are highly skeptical about it," he said. "How could they identify a Jordanian warplane ... in the sky? What was the American lady doing in a weapons warehouse?"

"It's part of their criminal propaganda. They have lied that our pilot is alive and tried to negotiate, claiming he is alive while they had killed him weeks before," al-Momani added.

The ISIS statement could not be independently verified. It appeared on a militant website commonly used by IS and was also distributed by ISIS-affiliated Twitter users.

Mueller's identity had not been disclosed until now out of fears for her safety. Her family said she was taken hostage by ISIS on Aug. 4, 2013, while leaving a hospital in Syria.

Her parents, Carl and Marsha Mueller, released a statement Friday night asking for privacy and addressing their daughter's captors.

"To those in positions of responsibility for holding Kayla; in adherence to your warnings and out of concern for Kayla's safety, we have been silent until now," the Muellers said, adding that her name was made public Friday. "This news leaves us concerned, yet, we are still hopeful that Kayla is alive. We have sent you a private message and ask that you respond to us privately."

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Kayla Mueller, left, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Arizona, is pictured with her mother Marsha Mueller in this undated photo obtained by Reuters. REUTERS

The Muellers said they believe the kidnappers have received the family's prior messages because British hostage John Cantlie, who is also being held by ISIS, "made references to them in October." Cantlie has been forced to appear in seven ISIS propaganda videos, most recently in January.

"You told us that you treated Kayla as your guest, as your guest her safety and wellbeing remains your responsibility," the statement said.

The Prescott native graduated in 2009 from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a bachelor's degree in political science. The university tweeted Friday afternoon that it was "deeply concerned" about reports about Mueller.

She spent the next two years volunteering with aid groups in India, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In 2011, she worked for one year at an HIV and AIDS clinic in Prescott. Tricia Goffena-Beyer, director of Northland Cares, said Mueller helped raise awareness of HIV and AIDS and coordinated events for things like World AIDS Day. Goffena-Beyer said she met Mueller briefly when she stopped by the clinic to say hello to former co-workers.

"I found her to be a remarkable young woman," Goffena-Beyer said. "She made a very lasting impression while she was here at the clinic."

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When she wasn't at the clinic, Mueller volunteered to work the overnight shift solo at a woman's shelter, which the staff said is a difficult position to fill. Muller slept among some two dozen women and children in a dorm, counseling them as needed and opening the door for women returning to the shelter from work.

After her stint with the clinic, Mueller worked as an au pair in France. In December 2012, she decided to work with refugees at the Turkey-Syria border.

At the time of her 2013 appearance in Prescott, Mueller was working with the humanitarian aid agency Support to Life in Turkey. She spent a great deal of time working in refugee camps with Syrian children. Her activities included drawing, painting and playing with them.

Her family said in a statement that "the common thread of Kayla's life has been her quiet leadership and strong desire to serve others." The family said it would not comment further beyond the short statement it released Friday. Sheriff's deputies blocked the road leading to the family home on the outskirts of Prescott.

Months before she was taken hostage, Mueller told the Kiwanis audience that she felt compelled to act to ensure the suffering does not continue, but she felt like she "can't do enough."

Mueller also spoke of how the U.S. wasn't sending enough humanitarian relief to the region.

"When Syrians hear I'm an American, they ask, 'Where is the world?' All I can do is cry with them, because I don't know," she said.

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