, 27, was a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where gunman Adam Lanza killed 27 people
, including 20 children all under the age of 8, during a shooting rampage
on Friday morning. Soto is credited with saving the lives of her 16 students by hiding them in a closet, then telling Lanza that the children were in the school gymnasium.
Lanza shot and killed Soto, but none of her students were hurt.
"She put herself between the gunman and the children and that's when she was tragically shot and killed," cousin Jim Wiltsie told
the Daily Mail
. "I'm proud that Vicki had the instincts to protect her kids from harm. In our eyes, she's a hero."
Soto's hometown of Stratford, Connecticut honored her with a Saturday night candlelight vigil. Mayor John Harkins addressed the grieving crowd of hundreds, calling the slain teacher a selfless hero.
"What she did was she gave herself without thinking of herself, but only of the children," Harkins said.
Other Sandy Hook teachers are also being hailed as heroes for their life-saving actions during the deadly rampage. Music teacher Maryrose Kristopik
, 50, herded 15 children into a closet and then barricaded the classroom door as Lanza hammered on the door demanding entry. Kaitlin Roig
, 24, also led her 15 pupils to safety as Lanza rampaged through the school.
Teacher Lauren Rousseau, 30, principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, and 20 children, all ages 6-8, were killed along with Lanza, who reportedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Lanza also killed his mother, Nancy Lanza
, before taking three of her guns and committing his grisly spree.