DETROIT – The family of a Michigan woman who died in Syria last month still lacks confirmation she was killed during fighting, a relative says. But a U.S. official says the government is working behind the scenes in the war-torn country to get a death certificate and return her body.
Deidra Mansfield told The Associated Press that federal officials haven't provided a death certificate for her cousin, 33-year-old Nicole Mansfield. Family members say agents informed them of her death on May 30 but details have been scant since.
The family still holds out hope for a proper burial but first seeks the proof.
"It's hard not having answers or knowing for sure what happened," Deidra Mansfield said. "We don't even know for sure if she is dead."
The U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly, said the State Department hasn't received a death certificate from Syrian authorities, which it needs to issue what's known as a Consular Report of Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad.
The official said the Czech Republic -- the U.S. protecting power in Syria -- is working with the Syrians to get a certificate but it isn't clear when that might happen because of the chaotic situation in Syria. The Czechs also are working with the Syrians to try to return Mansfield's body but the exact location of the remains isn't known, the official said.
Mansfield is the only American known to have been killed fighting in Syria. A pro-Syrian government news agency reported last month that Mansfield and two others were fighters for a group opposed to Syria's government and were killed in a confrontation in the northwestern city of Idlib. U.S. officials have yet to publicly provide information about her death.
A spokesman for Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, whose district includes the Flint area where Mansfield's family lives, said in a statement that the congressman understands the family's frustrations.
"Since the incident, our office has also been in regular contact with the State Department seeking information and Congressman Kildee hopes they provide more details soon," spokesman Mitchell Rivard said.
Mansfield first became interested in the Middle East after a boyfriend introduced her to Islam several years ago, friends and relatives say. After the relationship ended, she continued with the religion, going to services at a nearby mosque and wearing a hijab.
She later married an Arab immigrant, got divorced and traveled to Dubai, telling her family at the time she wanted to learn more about Arab culture and the politics of the region, relatives said.
Though family members asked questions, Mansfield, who has an 18-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, never told them the details of her marriage or trips overseas.
Longtime friend Tasha Williams told the AP last month that Mansfield called in mid-May to say she would be returning to the U.S. on a flight from Turkey after traveling to Syria to see a man. She wanted to be picked up at the Cincinnati airport.
Deidra Mansfield, who grew up with Nicole, said this week that the mystery compounds the grief felt by her and other family members.
"We're just going one day at a time, hoping that something will come up," she said. "I guess we'll never really know or never have closure."