Local family hit by Sandy Hook tragedy - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local family hit by Sandy Hook tragedy

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CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) - At least one Tennessee family has a loved one among the victims-- a teacher, whom all are calling a hero. She has close family in Cleveland.

It's the family of 27-year-old Victoria Soto, who died bravely trying to save her student's lives. Her uncle works at Life Care of Cleveland. His friends and co-workers say the shocking news has broken all of their hearts.

"He was waiting to hear word because he knew that was his niece's school," co-worker Tina Eakin said.

"At the time, he wasn't really clear as to what happened," manager Nina Lopez said.

Co-workers of Israel Soto say it was a gut wrenching afternoon Friday awaiting word on if his niece, first grade teacher Victoria Soto, was safe as they watched the horror at Sandy Hook unfold on TV.

"It was something we could not think someone would do to a person or those little children," Lopez said.

Then Israel's brother called with the heart-wrenching news that Victoria was killed.

"Sick, heartbroken, devastated," co-worker Britney Reid said.

A now iconic photo is of Israel's other niece when she got that same call.

"I know that he's the strong one, trying to be the backbone for his family and he's good at that, but my heart is broken for him as well," Reid said.

"It hit. It's one of our own that it's affecting," Life Care Marketing Director Annette Smith said.

Then news reports came out that Victoria Soto died shielding her students, hiding them in a closet, and trying to divert the shooter. Several kids survived because of her heroic actions and told police how their teacher died protecting them. A vigil was held in her honor Saturday in her hometown of Stratford, Connecticut.

"Knowing Israel like I do, it's no surprise to me that his niece, Vicki, did what she did for her students," Reid said.

"It's heartbreaking. It's really heartbreaking that to such a good family this has happened," Eakin said.

They say he and five other family members are leaving Tennessee for Connecticut Monday. They're just trying to figure out how they can help.

"We just want him to know we want to support him in any way we can," Smith said.

Israel Soto's co-workers think Victoria may have lived in Cleveland at some point but aren't for sure. They're asking as many people as they can to pray for her loved ones.

Those wishing to make contributions can call the Destiny Community Fellowship Church at (423) 432-9221 or visit their website.

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