On his Twitter account Steven Sotloff described himself as a "stand-up philosopher from Miami", while on his Facebook page he listed his favourite films as Lawrence of Arabia and The Big Lebowski.
A fan of the Miami Heat basketball team, he spent most of his life in Florida, where he was born and attended university. It was at university that he coedited the student newspaper and developed a love of journalism.
Josh Polsky, who he shared a room with at university, told the New York Times: "The guy lit up a room. He was always such a loyal, caring and good friend to us. If you needed to rely on anybody for anything he would drop everything on a dime for you or for anyone else."
After taking up journalism full-time Mr Sotloff began freelancing for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, Christian Science Monitor and the World Affairs Journal, filing from Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, Libya and Syria.
"While the world is abuzz with news that 60,000 Syrians have died so far in the 22-month-old civil war, it is the roughly 3 million refugees and internally displaced persons who are suffering daily. At camps such as Atmeh, located less than 1,000 feet from the border with Turkey, they are struggling to survive without heat, electricity, or adequate sanitation. The meager rations provided by a smattering of small NGOs leave them scrounging in order to keep their hunger at bay."
- Steven Sotloff, Foreign Policy, January 2013
Emerson Lotzia Jr, another college roommate, told the Central Florida Future that Mr Sotloff was aware of the risks he was taking in reporting from the region.
"A million people could have told him what he was doing was foolish, it seemed like it to us outsiders looking in, but to him it was what he loved to do and you weren't going to stop him," he 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."
Mr Sotloff disappeared in August 2013 while reporting on the civil war in Syria. Last month a virtual blackout on his fate ended when he appeared at the end of a video in which fellow American journalist James Foley was beheaded by a member of the Islamic State.
In recent days his mother Shirley pleaded with the leader of the self-declared Islamic State to "spare his life".
"Steven is a journalist who travelled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants," she said, looking directly to camera. "He is an honourable man and has always tried to help the weak."
Today another video was posted online purporting to show Mr Sotloff's murder at the hands of the same man who killed Mr Foley.
The video has not been independently verified but the White House said its "thoughts and prayers" were with the journalist's family.
"If the video is genuine, we are sickened by this brutal act," said Jen Psaki of the State Department.
The video of his murder will dominate news agendas around the world for days. But the shocking images from it should not be how we remember Mr Sotloff, a 31-year-old journalist who risked his life to bring the plight of ordinary people trying to survive a brutal civil war to the world's attention.