Friends speak on Steven Sotloff's accomplishments
Video: CFF in 60 - Plaza on University not completed, UCF Husky group, Knights Circle home invasion. Video by Arnold Godoy, Central Florida Future. Arnold Godoy
West Palm Beach sports reporter Emerson Lotzia didn't know what was happening.
While on his way to Boca Raton to do a story for WPTV news that night, he began receiving phone calls, texts and Facebook messages.
Shock and fear came next.
His former roommate of three years at UCF, Steven Sotloff, was shown in a chilling video released by ISIS militants called "A Message to America." Moments after American journalist James Foley was beheaded, the militant held Sotloff by the back of his shirt, and threatened that Sotloff would be next, pending President Barack Obama's next move.
"He said it was scary over there; it was dangerous. It wasn't safe to be over there — he knew it," Lotzia told the Central Florida Future. "He kept going back."
In many trips to the Middle East over the past decade, Sotloff's desire to tell stories is evident. He spent time in some of the world's most heated locations, including Turkey, Libya and Syria. The last Facebook post he made speaks of the constant danger that is present.
"Riot police came out for some reason in Antakya today," Sotloff's post reads. "I was pepper sprayed in the face and thrown to the ground. Some plain-clothed cops then confiscated my camera and detained me. They were very cordial after and even returned my camera a few hours later (with a blank memory card, of course). Moral of the story: don't take pictures of Turkish riot police in action."
That was just a day in the life of a reporter on the front lines. He told Lotzia it was dangerous. Those close to Sotloff had told him he was crazy for continuing to return to the Middle East, but Sotloff kept going back.
"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.
Lotzia said he still has voicemails on his phone from Sotloff, with timestamps as of late February 2013. His most recent tweet show his other love — sports.
Sotloff is a die-hard Miami Dolphins and Miami Heat fan. Even in the Middle East, he had discovered ways of staying up-to-date on American sports.
In college, it was another sport that had his heart.
"He loved the sport of rugby," Lotzia said. "That first summer when we first met, that was when he told me about rugby. When we moved in together, he would never shut the heck up about rugby. Rugby or the Miami Dolphins."
After they moved in together at The Village at Alafaya Club their sophomore year, Lotzia and Sotloff joined the rugby team at UCF together. While at UCF, Sotloff was also a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future, for which he covered the 2004 election, international issues and breaking news.
One story, headlined "Colleges are political hotbeds," was published on Oct. 28, 2004, and featured the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — a group whose goal was to expand Israeli rights on campus.
ISIS has not made much more mention of Sotloff publicly. However, a petition surfaced last week on whitehouse.gov calling for the Obama Administration to "do everything possible to free American reporter Steven Sotloff from ISIS in Syria and save his life."
To date, the petition has more than 11,000 signatures, but needs 100,000 total by Sept. 18 in order to receive direct response from the White House.