Former UCF student, journalist captured by ISIS
A former University of Central Florida student and journalist has been taken hostage by an Islamist extremist group. Video by Emre Kelly. Posted Aug. 21, 2014
A former UCF student and Central Florida Future senior staff writer has been taken hostage by ISIS, an Islamist extremist group.
In the threatening video, the focus is on the beheading of American journalist James Foley — as well as the appearance of a second hostage who is identified in the video as missing photojournalist and former UCF student Steven Joel Sotloff. On Wednesday, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, "We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic."
The man reported to be Sotloff is dressed in an orange jumpsuit and being held by a militant dressed fully in black in the video.
An ISIS extremist who appears in the video said that Sotloff will be the next to die if the United States doesn't stop its attacks on ISIS positions in Iraq. The video, which is in Arabic but narrated and subtitled in English, ends with Sotloff telling President Barack Obama his life "depends on your next decision."
"This is an unspeakably terrible circumstance. We join so many others who hope for Steven's safe return," UCF spokesman Grant Heston said in a statement from the university.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posted a video titled "A Message to America" that shows Foley's beheading. Foley disappeared in northwest Syria on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.
Sotloff's former roommate at UCF, Emerson Lotzia, Jr., has no doubt that the man shown was Sotloff.
"That is Steve," Lotzia said. "I can confirm 100 percent that is Steve Sotloff."
Lotzia lived with Sotloff on campus at UCF after meeting over the summer of their freshman year. The following two years, they lived together with a third roommate at The Village at Alafaya Club.
"A million people could have told him what he was doing was foolish, it seemed like it to us [as] outsiders looking in, but to him it was what he loved to do and you weren't going to stop him," Lotzia said. "Steve said it was scary over there. It was dangerous. It wasn't safe to be over there. He knew it. He kept going back."
"I think one thing people have to realize [is that] yesterday when this video came out, this is the first time his dad had seen or heard from his son since last December," Lotzia said.
UCF spokeswoman Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala confirmed that Sotloff was a UCF student from fall 2002 through December 2004 and was a journalism pending major. Sotloff also was a senior staff writer for the Future in 2004, with many front-page stories. Sotloff intently covered the 2004 presidential election for the paper.
He also covered breaking news and appeared to be particularly interested in covering politics.
While there are no professors currently working at UCF who were present during Sotloff's time at school, Kimberly Voss, journalism area coordinator at UCF, said it is imperative to have reporters on the front lines.
"I think [front line reporting is] very important and I think it's very important when it comes to photojournalism … It's something all journalism students should think about," Voss said. "Our hearts go out to, obviously, his friends and his family."
UCF offers a photojournalism course, and Voss said combat journalism is a topic of discussion in the class.
Sotloff is a photojournalist for Time magazine, according to CBS News.