IvyLee Rosario – News Editor –
The tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14 is one that affected dozens of family members and friends of the victims brought upon by the shooting. One of those victims, Victoria Soto, 27, died protecting her students from the gunman Adam Lanza. Soto was attending Southern to receive her Master’s Degree in Special Education with a concentration in Learning Disabilities.
“Vicki was such a special person. She was very dedicated to not only her school work here, but also her students at Sandy Hook,” said Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of special education who also served as Soto’s advisor.
“It feels so surreal to know that a person you had just seen weeks prior, was now gone,” said Spear-Swerling. “I just can’t believe it.”
Soto was in her third year teaching first grade at Sandy Hook. She had been at Sandy Hook for five years, the first two years as an intern where she was a long-term substitute teacher for two second-grade classrooms and one third-grade classroom.
“When she spoke about her students it was with the utmost respect for each and every one of them,” said Hannah Dostal, assistant professor of special education. “She believed they were each capable of amazing things; that’s what stood out the most to me about her.”
Soto graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with degrees in elementary education and history. She was currently attending Southern to continue her studies and receive her Master’s Degree.
Southern hosted a vigil for Soto as well as three alumni who also lost their lives during the tragedy at Sandy Hook; Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the elementary school’s principal, Mary J. Sherlach, the school’s counselor, and Anne Marie Murphy, a teacher.
The vigil took place on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at the Adanti Student Center. Students, faculty, and staff gathered around in remembrance of the lives that were lost. Some professors, as well as President Mary Papazian, made statements in regards to the event.
“I don’t even know how to describe how I felt. It was a devastating tragedy, unexplainable,” said Dostal. “I don’t even know how to process what happened.”
Dostal also read testimonials by Soto’s classmates in addition to her own speech.
An article from the New Haven Register reads, “Elisa: ‘Vicky loved being a teacher. She lit up when she talked about her ‘little angels.’ Two others, Catherine and Elizabeth, said: ‘She’ll always be a reminder of why we went into teaching — for the love of the children.’”
Around one hundred people attended the vigil held at Southern providing support as a campus community.
“I also spoke at the vigil,” said Spear-Swerling. “She was such a bright person and she really believed in what she was doing for her students. They inspired her with every moment she spent with them.”
Dostal spoke about the void that took over her classroom after Soto was no longer there.
“One of my students went and sat in Vicki’s normal seat because he said it shouldn’t be vacant,” said Dostal. “It was just something so surreal to see happen, you’re so used to seeing a student sit in a particular seat and then she just wasn’t there. There was definitely a sadness in class that first day back.”