NEWTOWN, Conn. (CBSNewYork) – Sandy Hook Elementary School first grade teacher Victoria Soto has been hailed a hero for giving her own life to shield her young students from the gunfire on Friday.
Police said the 27-year-old tried to distract gunman Adam Lanza, but when half of her class tried to run, that’s when police said Lanza opened fire.
“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,” Vicki’s mother Donna Soto told CBS This Morning. “She was not somebody that ever wanted to be famous or wanted her picture in the paper.”
Wearing Vicki’s favorite color green, her younger brother Carlos and sisters Carlee and Jillian joined their mother Donna as she described what it was like on Friday morning, waiting on word from her oldest daughter while driving towards the school.
“We were just praying and praying and walked up the hill…and never, never could have imagined the scene that we saw,” Donna Soto said.
Eventually directed to the fire house with other anxious family members, the Soto family waited hours to hear the awful news from Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy.
“The exact words that the governor used were ‘two children were brought to Danbury Hospital and expired,'” Donna Soto told Wragge. “And then…another angry parent said, ‘so what are you telling us, they’re all dead?’ And he said yes and that was how we found out.”
LISTEN: Gov. Malloy Chokes Up As He Explains Decision To Tell Families
Malloy described his decision to inform families in a way that broke protocol due to the nature of the shooting.
“It was evident to me that there was a reluctance to tell parents and loved ones that the person that they were waiting for was not going to return and that had gone on for a period of time, well after there was any expectancy that families reunited,” Gov. Malloy said, choked up, at a news conference Monday. “I made the decision that to have that go on any longer was wrong. I did it.”
The image of a woman in a white sweater on her cell phone overcome with grief has come to symbolize the horror of that day.
Carlee Soto said the photo of her is a snapshot of the worst moment of her life, when she found out her sister was among the dead.
“It’s like a reminder of that moment all over again and it kills,” Carlee Soto said.
At an interfaith vigil Sunday night, President Barack Obama pointed out just how bravely Vicki acted in the face of danger.
“He really made us feel like she was a hero and that everyone should know it,” Carlos Soto said.
Diane and Robert Licata said they are forever grateful for Vicki’s heroics that saved one of their children.
The Licatas had two children enrolled in Sandy Hook, one in Ms. Soto’s class.
“She was an absolutely amazing teacher. She just was so young and so full of like and educating just got her so excited and teaching those children is what she loved to do,” Diane Licata said.
The Licatas are faced with explaining the inexplicable events of last Friday to their 6-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.
“He’s obviously upset. He wants to know about his teacher, how his teacher is doing,” Robert Licata told CBS 2’s Dana Tyler. “We’re explaining to him that we don’t know but if something did happen, that they’re in heaven and they’re angels.
When Diane Licata got an emergency message from the school district, she raced toward the school.
“I saw my daughter’s teacher and I asked her where my daughter was and she said she didn’t know because they were separated,” she told CBS 2’s Tyler.
After an agonizing wait, she watched her daughter file out of the school — but not her son.
“So each group that came out, I waited and I prayed that he would be with that group and he never came out. So I really at that point really didn’t know if I would ever see him again,” Diane Licata said. “I got a text from a friend and it simply said our son was at the police station.”
Her son had escaped. He told his parents that when the shooting began inside, his teacher Ms. Soto moved the children in classroom 10 against a wall away from the door and that’s when their little boy came face to face with the gunman.
“Somehow the person was able to burst open the door. And basically at that point, that’s when they witnessed his teacher be shot. And they all ran. My son was the last one out with the children that he escaped with. They ran right by the shooter who was in the doorway. How they escaped we still, to this day, don’t know if we’ll ever really know exactly how they managed to get past him,” Robert Licata told Tyler.
The children got out, but the young teacher who had bravely shielded her students was left dead.
“I know she did everything she could at that moment,” Diane Licata told Tyler.
With only a week until Vicki’s favorite holiday, Christmas, her family is now planning a funeral. Vicki will be laid to rest on Wednesday.
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