Out of the chaos and horror emerged an incredible act of selflessness and bravery by one teacher, who spent her final moments trying to protect her young students from harm.
Victoria Soto, 27, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., ushered her students into a closet and in so doing placed her body between them and the assailant.
“She was found huddled over her children, her students, doing instinctively what she knew was the right thing,” her cousin Jim Wiltsie tells ABC News. “I’m just proud that Vicki had the instincts to protect her kids from harm,” he continued. “It brings peace to know that Vicki was doing what she loved, protecting the children and in our eyes she’s a hero.”
Soto was among the six adults – all women – killed in Friday morning’s massacre that also took the lives of 20 children – 12 girls and eight boys. The gunman, took his own life. His mother was also found killed in a different location.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all she would do this,” Sabeena Ali, the parent of a girl who was in Soto’s class two years ago, tells PEOPLE.
Ali calls Soto a “vibrant woman who loved the kids and would be with the kids and spend time with them and sit on the floor with them. ”
Two years later, her daughter – now a third-grader – still idolized Soto.
“Every day there was some new Miss Soto story we had to listen to: ‘This is what she did, this is how wonderful she was today,'” says Ali. “She would bring in snacks for the kids and do special days.