CLEVELAND, TN. (WRCB) - One of the victims killed in the Connecticut school shooting has strong ties to the Tennessee Valley.
Victoria Soto died shielding her students from gunfire. For her family in Cleveland the past few days have been difficult.
First grade Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto is being hailed a hero for saving several students' lives at the expense of her own, leaving her grandmother, aunt, uncles and cousins in Cleveland proud, but heartbroken.
They left for Connecticut Monday, thanks to help from their Cleveland community. Longtime friend and pastor Josh Sarmiento says Victoria Soto's family anxiously called him Friday at first word of a possible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
"To pray it wasn't them, and then later on she confirmed and of course, they found out first," Pastor Sarmiento says.
A picture of Victoria's sister has become an iconic image, representing the pain and devastation that day, as she learned her 27-year-old sister Victoria was one of the 28 victims.
"He was waiting to hear word, because he knew that was his niece's school," her uncle's co-worker at Life Care Center of Cleveland, Tina Eakin says.
One by one, her relatives in Cleveland received that same call.
"Someone over in rehab heard the call, when his family called him and told him," co-worker Britney Reid says.
Her uncle Israel's co-workers say it was hard to comprehend as they watched the news.
"It was something we could not think someone would do," co-worker Nina Lopez says.
"It hit," Annette Smith says. "It's one of our own that it's affecting."
"Her grandmother called me, and we ministered to her. She was, of course, crying," Pastor Sarmiento says.
The family filled the pews at Destiny Community Fellowship in Cleveland Sunday, as each victim's name was read aloud.
"They began the process of grieving and crying, and the whole church prayed with them and cried with them," Pastor Sarmiento says.
They're devastated but proud. She hid her students in a closet, tried to divert the shooter and was killed shielding them. The students she saved told police how she protected them.
"She's a hero. I wouldn't expect any less from her, just knowing her grandmother and aunt," Pastor Sarmiento says.
Six family members are heading to Connecticut from Cleveland to say their final goodbyes.
"I know that he's the strong one, trying to be the backbone for his family," Reid says.
Their fellow church members are taking up donations to help with traveling expenses, to at least relieve some burden.
If you'd like to give, you can send donations marked "for Soto family" to:
Destiny Community Fellowship 2611 Blue Springs Road Cleveland, TN 37311
Pastor Sarmiento says the Sotos also need your prayers.
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:55 PM EDT2013-06-19 22:55:48 GMT
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