Israel Soto, a CNA and rehabilitation technician at Life Care Centers of Cleveland, and his wife, Leonor, left Monday for Connecticut to be with the family of Israel’s niece, Victoria Soto — one of the Sandy Hook educators who died trying to protect her students from harm during Friday’s shooting rampage at the school.
Israel said his niece is “my hero” for her actions on that day.
“Despite all the troubles we have around the world, we have the good to make the difference,” Israel said.
Victoria Soto also had grandparents, an aunt and two cousins living in Cleveland. These family members will be traveling with the couple to Connecticut.
“I was on the road. I was taking my car for maintenence and my mom called me around noontime, and she said there was a shooting at the school where Vicky works, but we don’t know any survivors or who is dead,” Israel said. “That’s when the agony truly started.”
Information was confusing on the day of the shooting, Soto said.
He said family in Connecticut kept those in Cleveland informed of the latest developments.
At 4 p.m. on the day of the shooting, Israel received the call that Victoria Soto had not survived.
“My family ... we are very, very united,” Israel said. “The last time I saw my niece she was a teenager. ... She was always kind, loving. That’s the reason she became a school teacher, because she loved to be around kids.”
Leonor Soto said the couple receives a Christmas card from Victoria’s family every year.
“Last year’s, I just like two weeks ago took it down (from the refrigerator door), ’cause I still had it there,” Leonor Soto said. “Every year we had a photo of them, so I will have to go back in the album and put it there again.
Victoria Soto had been planning a trip to Puerto Rico to meet other members of her family.
Life Care Center of Cleveland gave Israel some time to meet with colleagues before leaving. They prayed for him, his family and all of those affected by the tragedy.
“I’m very thankful for the support,” Israel said, commenting that continued prayers for his family would be appreciated.
“We just wanted to wish him a safe trip and safe travel to Connecticut,” Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said. “We just want to say to the Soto family that we love them, and Cleveland, Tennessee, is praying for them.”
Soto had been Rowland’s rehabilitation technician when he was in an accident in 2010.
“Our residents adore him. Us just coming together today is just to prove even more we are there for him, and just at the end of the day want him to know that he is taken care of and that he is loved,” Life Care Center of Cleveland executive director Jeremy Gravell said.
Life Care Centers of America will also be reaching out to other family members affected by the tragedy by giving the Sotos copies of Max Lucado’s “In these tough Times” to be given to victims’ family members. One chapter in the book focuses on where is God when tragedy strikes — a question Israel Soto has already seemed to settle in his heart.
“I believe God was there ... even when she collapsed,” Israel Soto said. “The guy was standing like a statue — that’s what the kids are saying — because they had an opportunity to run away from him. I believe God froze him so those kids could get away even as my niece put her life on the line.”