(FloridaToday.com) - Concerns for a kidnapped photojournalist who studied at the University of Central Florida in the early 2000s grew more dire Wednesday after the release of an Islamic extremist group's video threatened his life if American airstrikes continued in Iraq.
Steven Joel Sotloff, who wrote for the student-run Central Florida Future between 2002 and 2004, is a hostage of the ISIS Islamist terror group and was threatened with death in the same video that portrayed the beheading of another American journalist, James Foley.
In that video, Sotloff is dressed in an orange jumpsuit and held by a militant dressed fully in black. U.S. officials believe the video is genuine and was made days before its Tuesday release, perhaps last weekend. U.S. officials have grown increasingly worried about Sotloff's fate.
Sotloff's former roommate at UCF, Emerson Lotzia, Jr., saw the video and immediately recognized his friend.
"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. Sotloff is believed held in Syria, along with at least three others kidnapped by ISIS.
Sotloff was a staff writer for the Central FloridaFuture, a FLORIDA TODAY property, with many front-page stories. Sotloff intently covered the 2004 presidential election for newspaper.
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.
"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 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."
Sotloff is a photojournalist for Time magazine, according to CBS News.
Information from Associated Press was used in this report.