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Steven Joel Sotloff’s zest for journalism began at N.H. boarding school

WASHINGTON — The journalistic drive that powered Steven Joel Sotloff, whose quest for truth reportedly ended in barbaric fashion at the hands of terrorists in Syria, was sparked at a small college preparatory school in New Hampshire.

In 2000, the Miami native enrolled at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, a boarding school near Lebanon, N.H., during what was his sophomore year in high school.

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It was there he quickly exhibited a keen interest in journalism, school officials recounted Tuesday, and was credited with revitalizing the school’s newspaper, The Kimball Union.

Citing e-mails he received from the former student in 2011, Mike Schafer, head of the private school founded in 1811, said Sotloff credited his experience writing for the school paper with helping to prepare him to “see the world through different lenses.”

“His courageous actions have and will always inspire our students and our community,” Schafer said. “We proudly celebrate his important legacy and his deep commitment to making the world a better place.”

Sotloff, 31, who was held prisoner by Islamic State militants since 2012, chronicled the so-called Arab Spring in the Middle East, the popular uprisings from Egypt to Libya to Syria that empowered groups seeking greater freedoms but also created vacuums for some of the most radical Islamists to fill.

He wrote for a variety of publications, including the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor.

For one dispatch in February 2011, Sotloff waded into thousands of protesters in the capital of Bahrain just days after a brutal government crackdown, interviewing citizens from the Shi’ite Muslim majority seeking greater freedoms from the Sunni-led government.

A year later he sent dispatches from Libya, similarly giving voice to average citizens struggling amid the chaos following the ouster of dictator Moammar Khadafy.

“We see none of our country’s great oil wealth,” lamented one resident of Benghazi that Sotloff interviewed. “All we know is oil is pumped from under our feet and goes to pay for health and education somewhere else.”

That same year Sotloff returned to Kimball Union Academy.

He “captivated his audiences with his presentation on the causes and outcomes of the 2011 Arab Spring and the roles that culture and religion played in the uprisings,” according to Julie Brennan, the school’s director of communications.

“Steven was dedicated to putting a human face on the sufferings and hardships in some of the world’s most challenging conflict zones,” she added.

Sotloff’s captivity first received widespread attention last month when he appeared in the same video that depicted the beheading of journalist and New Hampshire native James Foley. His captors threatened to kill Sotloff, too, unless the United States ceased its airstrikes against the group in Iraq.

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com.

Correction: An earlier version of this story spelled Mike Schafer’s last name wrong, and misidentified Kimball Union Academy.

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