Teacher Victoria Soto used her body to shield her students from the maniacal gunman who launched a massacre at a Connecticut school, relatives said Saturday.
Soto paid for her bravery with her life. But in doing so, the 27-year-old may have saved her first-graders from the murderous wrath of Adam Lanza — and became a hero.
“The family received information she was found shielding her students in a closet,” Soto’s cousin Jim Wiltsie told the Daily News. “She put herself between the gunman and her students.”
Wiltsie said police told the family of Soto’s bravery at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“I’m very proud to report she was a hero,” said Wiltsie, who is a police officer in Fairfield, Conn. “I would expect nothing less from Vicki. Instinctively her training kicked in. She did what she was trained to do, but also what her heart told her to do.”
Knowing this, said Wiltsie, has given the family a small measure of peace.
“Emotionally, it’s a lot to process all at once,” he said. “It’s still surreal to the family that this happened.”
And the fact that Soto was slain just before Christmas has devastated them, he added.
She absolutely adored her family, a very close-knit family,” Wiltsie said. “She was the ringleader of the bunch. They had just done secret Santa. She always took charge.”
Soto lived with her parents, her sisters and a brother in Stratford, Conn. Home was a modest Cape Cod-style house in a blue-collar neighborhood. She was single, doted on her black Labrador, Roxy, and was a regular worshiper at the Lordship Community Church in Stratford.
Her mom, Donna, has worked as a nurse at Bridgeport Hospital for 30 years. Her dad, Carlos, is a crane operator for the state’s Department of Transportation.
Vicki, as everybody called her, was the apple of her father’s eye. And it was left to him to formally identify his daughter’s body.
He always talked about her,” said Gary Verbanic, who works with the heartbroken dad. “He loved her like you wouldn’t believe. Every time he spoke to her on the phone, he was cheerful.”
“I’m heartbroken,” Verbanic added. “She was an amazing person.”
Soto’s next-door neighbor said the fetching brunette “was so sweet.”
When I hurt my back, she came over and shoveled my walkway,” said George Henderson, 55. “She didn’t have to do that. She was a young lady. She had a whole lot going for her.”
Soto’s only complaint, Henderson said, was about her long commute to the school in Newtown. “I’m so sad I won’t hear her car cranking up every morning,” he said.
Soto had been teaching at the school for five years — and was adored by her students. She called them her “angels” and delighted the little devil in them by sometimes chewing gum in class, which all the kids knew is a no-no at the school.
No funeral arrangements have been made yet for Soto because her body has not been released. But Wilstie said he wants the world to know Vicki’s story now, before she is buried and forgotten.
“I want to get this out there,” he said. “Instead of her just being a statistic or number on a piece of paper, I want people to know Vicki’s story and put a face behind what she did for those kids.”