Friends of Victoria "Vicki" Soto -- the Newtown teacher who selflessly gave her life to save those of her students -- are not surprised to hear of the Stratford native's bravery as the story spreads across the nation and beyond.
"She's a hero and I wouldn't expect anything less from her," said Jessica Zrallack, who graduated from Stratford High School in 2004, a year after Soto did.
"She was definitely a kindhearted, gentle person but when you step on her toes she's tough," said Luis Sanchez, who grew up with Soto on Knowlton Street and graduated high school with her in 2003.
Zrallack and Sanchez were two out of a group of hundreds that gathered at a candlelight vigil outside Stratford Town Hall Saturday night to honor the memory of Soto and the other five adults and 20 children who died Friday in a mass shooting at a Newtown elementary school.
Upon hearing the first rounds of gunfire in an adjacent classroom, the 27-year-old Soto scrambled to hide her first-grade students, 15 or 16 kids, before the gunman made his way to her room, a source told the Hartford Courant.
After entering the room, the shooter confronted and killed Soto but the students were saved because the gunman did not see them in the room, the source told the newspaper.
"I'm at a loss for words," said Zrallack, adding that she's not sure how she'll be able to cope. "You see pictures and it doesn't make sense, you can't take another picture."
Sanchez said he lived next to Soto for 13 years as a kid and though she is gone, she will always be close. "We were always good friends and that will never change," he said.
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Also trying to make sense of the massacre was Caitlyn Laroque, a senior at Stratford High School, and Charles Marbito, a senior at Bunnell High School.
Laroque said she knew one of the boys who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She said she remembers talking to him a couple years ago. What did they chat about? "Everything from his truck to what he liked to do," said a teary-eyed Laroque.
When Marbito heard about the Newtown shooting, the first thing he did was call his 9-year-old sister in New York. "I explained what a lockdown was, told her to be prepared and listen to your teachers," he said.
Marbito said he's been struggling to understand what could have led to the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
"I don't know who gives himself that authority," Marbito said of the shooter, who later would turn the gun on himself. "I just wish the violence would end."