MIAMI — Except for a single phone call to his parents in December, Steven Joel Sotloff, 31, of South Florida hadn't been seen or heard from again since last August, when he was kidnapped in Syria near the Turkish border.
Then came Tuesday, when he appeared in the video purportedly posted by the militant Islamic group that calls itself the Islamic State, shortly after the scenes of the decapitation of another American journalist, 40-year-old James Foley of New Hampshire.
Sotloff, a former University of Central Florida student, has spent years reporting from Middle Eastern hot spots for Time magazine and other news media.
He was shown atop a sand dune, his head shaved, his arms bound behind his back and his expression grim as an Arabic caption flashed across the screen: "The life of Steven Joel Sotloff depends on Obama's next move."
"It was Steve, 100 percent, the guy I roomed with at the University of Central Florida for three years," said Emerson Lotzia, a sports anchorman and reporter for the Fox and NBC television affiliates in West Palm Beach. "I wish I could believe it wasn't."
Sotloff, if he were free, would probably have been covering the airstrikes. Colleagues called him astute, insightful and fearless, a journalist fluent in Arabic who did not shrink even from lawless landscapes like the one in Libya, from which he reported regularly.
Sotloff went to high school at Kimball Union Academy, a New Hampshire prep school where he played football and rugby, then attended the University of Central Florida for three years.
Lotzia said the past days have been a roller-coast ride for the Sotloff family, who live in Pinecrest.
"I talked to Steve's dad Tuesday night," he said. "He was in the best of spirits, then he was in the worst of spirits, he told me. 'At last, I know my son is alive.' "