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Remembering Steven Sotloff
02:45 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: "Live your lives to the fullest and pray to be happy," Steven Sotloff wrote

A letter written by Sotloff in captivity is read aloud during the service

Steven Sotloff's mother says she's proud he got to live his dream

"I lost my son and my best friend," his father tells mourners

Pinecrest, Florida CNN  — 

Steven Sotloff, the American journalist beheaded by ISIS militants, got the last word during a memorial service in his honor Friday.

Passages from two letters written by Sotloff during his captivity and smuggled out of Syria were read aloud before hundreds of relatives, friends, colleagues and officials who packed the public service at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Florida, outside Miami.

“Everyone has two lives. A second one begins when you realize you only have one,” one letter said in part. “Hug each other every day. Please know I am OK. Live your lives to the fullest and pray to be happy.”

The 31-year-old freelance journalist disappeared during a reporting trip to Syria in August 2013 and was later determined to have been abducted.

On Tuesday, ISIS posted a video online showing one of its members beheading Sotloff. The grisly killing provoked international outrage at the Islamic terror group that refers to itself as the Islamic State. The group seeks to establish an Islamic state, a caliphate, in parts of Syria and Iraq.

It is not clear how Sotloff’s letters, read by his relatives, made it into his family’s hands.

During the service, Sotloff’s father, Art, choked up with emotion as he spoke of his son.

“I will try to speak from my heart but my heart is broken,” the father said. “I lost my son and my best friend.

“He is done suffering.”

Sotloff’s mother, Shirley, said she was proud her son got to live his dream.

“I may not have him physically, but I will always have him in my heart,” she said.

Among more than 900 attendees were Florida Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sotloff’s family accuses ISIS leader of violating Islam with execution

Sotloff grew up in South Florida with his mother, father and younger sister. He attended high school at a New England boarding school, Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire.

In the program for Friday’s service, Sotloff’s sister shared lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” which the family said stirred their memories of Sotloff. At one point in the service, the song played, and mourners wept and sang softly to the music, using the lyric sheet.

His sister, Lauren, expressed her loss.

“Dear Steven, I love you very much. … You were my best friend,” she said. “You introduced me to the ‘X-Files’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks.’”

Rubio said the slain war correspondent “chose not to just be a journalist but one to report where horrible things happen.”

“It was to bring to us stories about the people who were suffering unbelievable acts,” Rubio said. “Evil is still here. It has a different name but it’s still here, and he unmasked it.”

Friends of Steven Sotloff speak admiringly of his talent, passion

CNN’s John Couwels and Noah Gray reported from Florida. Michael Martinez wrote and reported from Los Angeles. Chelsea J. Carter wrote from Atlanta.