Sandy Hook Teacher: Victoria Soto Remembered By Family, Friends

1:48 PM, Dec 19, 2012   |    comments
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Grieving family and friends arrive at the funerals of 27-year old teacher Victoria Soto and 7-year old Daniel Barden.

(CBS News)-- First-grade teacher Victoria Soto, 27, died Friday in the deadly Connecticut massacre that led to the deaths of 27 people, plus the shooter.

Her students told police that she tried to distract gunman Adam Lanza, but when half of the class tried to run, Lanza opened fire. According to investigators, when Vicki was found, it was clear that she died trying to shield her students from harm.

On Sunday night, President Obama said she "responded as we all hope we might" in such a harrowing scenario.

CBS News' Gayle King spoke with Vicki's mother, sisters Carlee and Jillian, and brother Carlos as they struggle to come to terms with Friday's shooting and honor Vicki's memory.

"We heard at one point that they found some people hiding in a closet. And all of us said, 'Vicki would never be hiding in a closet.' She would be out there protecting those babies," her mother Donna said.

When word of the shooting reached the Sotos, they immediately began driving toward the elementary school, frantically trying to get in touch with Vicki.

"We were just praying and praying and praying," Donna said. "Then we got closer, and we parked at a church and walked up the hill and never, never could have imagined the scene that we saw."

The Sotos were eventually directed to the firehouse with other family members to begin the hours-long wait for news of their loved ones. That news ultimately came from Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy.

"The exact words that the governor used were, 'Two children were brought to Danbury Hospital and expired,' and at that point, the parents just were hysterical. They were on the floor," Donna said.

She continued, "Then another parent said, 'Well, where did the other people go?...We want to be with our kids,' and he said, 'Nobody else was taken to a hospital.'

"A very angry parent said, 'So what are you telling us, they're all dead?' And he said, 'Yes,' and that was how we found out," Donna said.

Carlee Soto recalls a photo of herself that has since made its way to news and social media outlets around the world, showing her being hysterical breaking the news of her sister's death to her boyfriend over the phone.

"It's like a reminder of that moment all over again," Carlee said of the photo. "It kills."

On Sunday night, the Sotos were among the families of the victims and the first responders who met privately with Mr. Obama before a public vigil held in Newtown. "He really made us feel like she really was a hero and that everyone should know it," Carlos Soto said.

And while she is being widely heralded as a hero, her mother said that teaching was her daughter's life and that she never sought recognition or fame.

"She was not somebody that ever wanted to be famous or wanted her picture in the paper. To have it blasted all over the papers throughout the country and the world, it's just, it's surreal," Donna told King.

Carlos also remembers the Sotos' annual tradition of picking out a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, in advance of Vicki's favorite holiday.

"I'm just going to remember going out every year the day after Thanksgiving, getting our Christmas tree ... and any tree that me or my sisters would pick out, no, it had to be Vicki's tree ... it had to have the queen's approval."

Donna Soto also remembers her daughter's perfectionism and sense of humor.

"She was the best daughter any mother could ask for. She used to tell me all the time she was the perfect one ... but she was just the best, the best person. She loved her family more than anything. Teaching and her family was her life," Donna told King.

GNS/CBS News

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