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Harroun had multiple piercings, and he shaved his hair on the sides, combing back the rest with gel.

Kids called him Slick 50, and, to press the insult, someone poured motor oil on Ann’s car in the middle of the night. In 2000, he went to boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He attended Harroun’s graduation ceremony and recalls the day as “probably the proudest I ever was of him.” Harroun had an uneventful soldiering career, never deploying overseas.

(The activist, whose family remains in Syria, asked for his name to be withheld.) On January 4, 2013, Harroun told his mother, “I will be in Syria for 1 month, then take a break for a couple weeks.” He was bringing his i Phone but doubted that he would find a reliable Internet connection.

He warned her that it might be a while before she heard from him.“Stay safe,” she wrote.

While Harroun awaited various court hearings, he began following the news, and developed a fascination with the Middle East.

Ann had a sister who lived there, and she hoped that family support and a tight community would temper her son.

But he was picked on as an outsider, and acted up at school.

The revolt against Bashar al-Assad was approaching its third year, and the activist lamented that Assad was bombarding his people with tanks, jets, and poison gas.

Human-rights organizations had accused Syrian soldiers of war crimes, including raping prisoners and massacring children.

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