A coffin bearing the body of Victoria Soto is carried out of Lordship Community Church after her funeral service, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, in Stratford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Victoria Soto remembered as a hero and giving soul

STRATFORD, CT -Victoria Soto loved watching old home movies, and liked pink flamingos. She put nicknames on everyone and everything, including her new car, which she named “Blazer.” She adored Christmas, and her sister said she loved to sing “Feliz Navidad.”

And the young woman who dreamed of being a teacher since she was little died saving “her kids.”

Hundreds of friends, relatives, educators and members of the tight-knit community of Stratford, Connecticut came to say goodbye to 27-year-old Victoria “Vicky” Soto, the heroic teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School who quickly hid her students in a closet and told shooter Adam Lanza they were in another part of the building.  Authorities say Lanza shot and killed her.

But today, Luciano Soto, a friend of Vicky’s mother and a pastor, said in Spanish, speaking after the service that the shooter “was able to harm her body, but not her soul.”

At the touching and tear-filled funeral service, acclaimed musician Paul Simon played his iconic Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sounds of Silence.”  It turns out Paul Simon and his family had met the Sotos through Vicky’s mother and Simon’s sister-in-law, who are both nurses.

In this postcard-perfect and close-knit New England town, it seems the whole town knows Vicky or her family.  A cab driver went to school with Vicky’s uncle, and on the way to the church pointed out Vicky’s former high school.  From a distance, one could see the makeshift shrine with flowers and candles in front of the building where the well-loved teacher walked the halls as a student less than a decade ago.

At a local Dunkin Donuts, manager Albert Tabra and employee Celestina Jaimes remembered the young, attractive teacher coming in occasionally to grab a coffee on her way to work.

Jaimes shed tears as she said of Soto, “she gave her life for those kids, may God have her in his arms.”  Tabra, still shaken by the horrifying shooting, recalls running to pick his children up from school and hugging them tight. Speaking of the 20 children whose lives were taken, Tabra says, “All of the children are our children, as a parent one suffers so much,” he says.

Ryan Ortiz, the son of one of Vicky’s father’s childhood friends, is the same age as the slain teacher.  “It is mind-boggling what she had to go through.”  When asked how he thinks Soto should be remembered, he said, “even in the midst of the darkness that did happen, in my opinion she was the light amidst the darkness that was going on in that school.”

“There’s really no other way to remember her than being that light in the room.”

Victoria’s younger sister said during the service that she did not see her older sister the night before she died, since Victoria had gone out late to get school supplies for her children. During the moving ceremony, they also talked about the popular teacher’s beautiful blue eyes; she was named Victoria after her great-grandmother, and was the only one in the family to inherit the great-grandmother’s blue eyes.

Edward Ortiz, who grew up with Vicky’s Puerto Rican dad, Carlos Soto, in Bridgeport, Connecticut said the teacher’s dad was involved in the community and had coached Little League. “It’s impacted a lot of lives, no one is ever prepared for a tragedy like this.”  One relative said Vicky’s mother is completely devastated.

Stratford resident Miguel Padilla, who was standing outside the church, said it was so sad this happened, especially during the holiday season.  Noting it was “pathetic” that a 20-year-old young man could so easily get a hold of an assault rifle, Padilla said, “something big has to come out this.  They have to change the law.”

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