Sotloff family: 'Steve was no hero. ... He was a mere man who tried to find good'

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

The family of slain American journalist Steven Sotloff released a statement on Wednesday, just hours after the authenticity of a video showing Sotloff's brutal execution at the hands of Islamic militants was confirmed.

"Ever since Steven was abducted on August 4, 2013, in Aleppo, his family has refrained from speaking about his incarceration," Barak Barfi, a friend and spokesperson for the Sotloff family, said in a statement delivered in front of the family's home in Miami. "Now that he has left this world, we break that silence to share Steve’s story and that of our country."

The 31-year-old was working as a freelance journalist for Time and Foreign Policy magazines before his capture in Syria.

"Steve was equally torn between two poles," Barfi said. "He wanted to live in a society governed by John Ford’s ideals but ultimately could not turn his back on the suffering pervading Sam Peckinpah’s world. He yearned for a tranquil life where he could enjoy Miami Dolphins games on Sunday and a banal office job on Monday that would provide a comfortable middle-class existence."

But the Arab world "pulled him," Barfi said.

"He was no war junkie," Barfi said of his friend. "He did not want to be a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia.  He merely wanted to give voice to those who had none. From the Libyan doctor in Misrata who struggled to provide psychological services to children ravaged by war, to the Syrian plumber who risked his life by crossing regime lines to purchase medicine, their story was Steve’s story. He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world."

Barfi described Sotloff as "a gentle soul" who would "hold people’s hands to build rapport" before reporting their story.

"Steve was no hero," Barfi continued. "Like all of us, he was a mere man who tried to find good concealed in a world of darkness. And if it did not exist, he tried to create it.  He always sought to help those less privileged than himself, offering career services and precious contacts to newcomers in the region. He indulged in "South Park," but was just as serious about filing a story at 3 a.m. He had a fondness for junk food that he could not overcome. And despite his busy schedule, he always found time to Skype his father to talk about his latest golf game."

Sotloff became the second American journalist to be beheaded by the militant group in two weeks. The first, James Foley, was beheaded in a video that showed Sotloff being held.

"Our prayers go out to the family of Jim Foley," Barfi said. "Like Steve, he suffered. But his jailers never broke him, and he was an inspiration for others in that dark prison far from this country’s freedoms."

Sotloff's mother had issued a desperate plea to the group's self-proclaimed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to spare her son.

"Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government,” Shirley Sotloff said in the videotaped message broadcast on Al-Arabiya TV. "He’s an innocent journalist. I’ve always learned that you, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child. As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over."

Barfi said the family would not be available for interviews.

"Today we grieve. This week we mourn," he said. "But we will emerge from this ordeal. Our village is strong. We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess: fear."

Earlier on Wednesday, President Obama addressed Sotloff's death and vowed to "degrade and destroy" the militant group that killed him.

"We will not be intimidated," Obama said during a visit to Estonia. "Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists. And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served."