Prescott School Remembers Mueller With Pride, Sadness

By Stina Sieg
Published: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:44pm
Updated: Monday, February 16, 2015 - 3:00pm
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Photo courtesy of the Mueller family
Kayla Mueller's friends and family are beginning to talk about the extraordinary life of the 26-year-old aid worker, who died while in captivity by ISIS.

National media crowded into Prescott this week after news that one of its native daughters died while in captivity of ISIS. Now, many of the news vans and reporters have headed home. But the small town’s healing over Kayla Mueller’s death is just starting.

At Tri-City College Prep High School, Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellen Halvorson flipped through an old yearbook. As she spoke about Mueller, it was as if she couldn’t help but smile.

“She got voted for multiple things,” she said. “Including best hair! They liked her hair.”

Her classmates also voted her most friendly and best personality. Mueller was a hard worker, Halverson said, a natural leader who was involved in many clubs. But not just that.  

“She was pleasant to be around, all the time,” she said. “You just wanted to be around her.”

Many of her students are motivated and talented, Halvorson said, but Mueller still stood out among them. After graduating high school in 2007, it took her just two years to get a degree from Northern Arizona University. She traveled, volunteered and worked at nonprofits around the world, from India to Israel. She even met the Dalai Lama. Halvorson says Mueller wanted to “soar high” — and she did.

“She probably accomplished more in her 26 years than most people will accomplish in a much longer lifetime. So you have to feel extremely proud of her, and proud to have been a part of her life,” she said. “But at the same time, there’s a sadness.”

Bill Batzli feels it too.

“I can’t really look at her picture without having some emotional response,” he said. “And it’s just a deep, deep loss for humanity."

Batzli taught Mueller in several classes. Like almost everyone in town, he was completely in the dark about Mueller’s capture back in 2013 — and completely shocked last week when reports of her death were circulated by ISIS. He was holding out hope that Mueller was still alive, until her family confirmed news of her death Tuesday.

“I just can’t imagine why any group of people – or any individual – could harm somebody with that good of a heart. It’s just amazing to me. And I’m just ...” he said, as his voice trailed off.

He started to cry, which he promised himself he wouldn’t do. When he was more composed, Batzli said his school might create some kind of memorial for Mueller – just like the city of Prescott might. But that’s later down the road. Right now, he said, everyone’s still too much in shock to think about it. 

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