A cold and bitter wind blew through Stratford in the late morning of Dec. 19. It swept across the lawn in front of Lordship Community Church, picked up a small white poster board and carried it into a woman standing nearby.
She picked it up and looked at the words written on it. “You will always be our hero,” it read.
On the morning of Dec. 14, an armed gunman entered the Newtown school where the 27-year-old Stratford resident was a teacher. When he made his way to her classroom, Victoria Soto’s students were hidden in closets. She told the gunman they were elsewhere in the school.
All 16 of her students survived the massacre in Newtown that saw 20 of their classmates murdered, along with six members of the faculty and staff.
Soto did not.
Folding chairs sat on the lawn outside the church, providing seating for the hundreds for whom there was no room inside. They huddled together for warmth and compassion.
Paul Simon’s voice drifted from inside the tall white walls of the church. He was singing “Sound of Silence.”
Relatives gave tearful remembrances of the lives they shared with Soto. Christmas became a common theme. Most in the family considered it Soto’s pet project holiday and turned to her when making plans. Soto was the one who chose the tree and put up decorations.
Her aunt, Debbie Cronk, made a tradition of giving Soto a new ornament every year for her Christmas tree. Fighting back tears she told the crowd she had already given Soto the one for this year. Cronk, who is also a school teacher and was honored that Soto followed in that career path, said her niece was her angel and hero.
Soto’s cousin, Heather Cronk, told stories of their youth: Planning vacations and holiday gatherings, playing games and even pretending to be the Spice Girls.
“There was never a dull moment with Vicki,” said a choked-up Heather. “I would ask her, ‘When are you going to finally be considered an adult?’”
Soto’s reply was always a jovial, “Never.”
It was noted that Soto, a Stratford High School Class of 2003 graduate was the first of her cousins to go to college and served as an inspiration to them. She double-majored in English and History and earned degrees in both with high honors from Eastern Connecticut State University. She was attending courses at Southern Connecticut State University in pursuit of a Master’s Degree.
Words of remembrance were also offered by her sisters, Jillian and Carlee, cousin Alex Fagan and her friend Rachel Schiavone. Her brother, Carlos Mathew Soto read from the scriptures.
Soto’s casket was escorted to and from the church by a cadre of officers from around the state. Care and effort were made to shield the family from an onslaught of media.
Lordship resident Ed Kiely stood back and away from the crowd. He knew the family, and grew up with her grandfather. His children all knew Soto.
“This is the most tragic thing that has ever happened in Lordship,” Kiely said. “For three or four days now there have been tears in my eyes.”
Following the funeral, Soto was interred at Union Cemetery in Stratford. The family requested that donations be made to the Victoria L. Soto Memorial Fund for Education in lieu of flowers. Donations can be made through the Adzima Funeral Home, 50 Paradise Green Place. Information is available at 222.adzimafuneralhome.com.
As the crowd dispersed following the ceremony, Paul and Arlene Bernor, Lordship residents, offered their own remembrances of Soto. They knew the family through the church, and recalled how kind and compassionate Soto had been caring for their child in the Church’s nursery.
“We get through this one day at a time,” Paul said. He said the news of her death hit him hard, and as someone who has worked with EMS, the thought of what happened in that school was horrifying.
“There is no rhyme or reason for something like this,” Paul said. “We can forget who her killer was, and we can try to glorify her.”