Three American soldiers from Florida died serving their country in 2014. While Steven J. Sotloff was not in the military, he was covering events in the Middle East, and his beheading by the Islamic State helped change the course of the war and galvanize the nation. In 2013, nine soldiers were killed.
FLORIDA'S FALLEN SOLDIERS
Army Sgt. 1st Class William K. Lacey, 38 Laurel Hill (Okaloosa County) Jan. 4 Died in combat in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Roberto C. Skelt, 41 York (Marion County) Feb. 12 Died in combat in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Leggett, 39 Ruskin (Hillsborough County) Aug. 20 Died in combat in Kabul, Afghanistan.
STEVEN J. Sotloff
The 2014 beheadings of Florida freelance journalist Steven J. Sotloff and fellow American journalist James Foley crystalized the nature of the Islamic State for people in the West and led to a heightened U. S. air and ground mission in Iraq along with direct involvement in Syria.
Foley was beheaded in August, after the U.S. began airstrikes in the summer to save Iraq from the Islamic State onslaught. His killers warned Sotloff would be next. President Barack Obama stepped up airstrikes, and Sotloff, despite his mother's videotaped plea for his life, was killed on Sept. 2. The murders incensed the public and president and within days a galvanized United States formed a coalition with other nations to attack Islamic State.
Sotloff, 31, was Jewish, though his family tried to keep his faith and his dual Israeli citizenship a secret during his captivity. He grew up in Pinecrest south of Miami and attended the University of Central Florida. He made a pilgrimage to Israel, became An Israeli citizen and later embarked on a life reporting for various news outlets from troubled places around the Middle East. After crossing into Syria in August 2013, he was captured and endured 13 months of captivity. Hostages, a mix of freelance journalists and aid workers, were beaten, starved, subjected to mock executions and tortured.
A thousand people attended a memorial service for Sotloff at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest. "Steven believed deeply that all people were created in the image of God, the one God of all humanity," said Rabbi Terry Bookman at the service. He said Sotloff was "an idealistic young man whose only desire in his journalistic efforts was to bring a human face to the conflict."