The theme of the gathering was, “It’s All From the Heart,” and Soto was praised as a dramatic example of a teacher who loved her first-grade students and gave her life for them.
“The tragic day of Dec. 14, 2012, will live in our memory throughout our lifetimes,” said Beecher Hunter, Life Care president.
That is when a 20-year-old gunman entered the Newtown, Conn., school and on a shooting rampage killed 20 children and six adult staff members. He had already killed 15 students and two teachers when he got to Soto’s classroom.
Hearing shots and screams, Soto hid five of her students in a closet, and others got under desks. When the shooter entered her room, she threw herself in front of her students, placing herself between them and the killer, and was shot and killed. By her action, she saved the lives of a number of the children. She was hailed as a heroine, and later was awarded posthumously the Presidential Citizens Medal. Subsequently, the town of Stratford renamed the elementary school she had attended as the Victoria Soto Elementary School.
Israel Soto, Victoria’s uncle, is a rehab tech at Life Care Center of Cleveland. He introduced other family members, including his wife and his parents, and then spoke about his niece — her courage, her devotion to her students and her heart for them that propelled her to step in front of the gunman. He commended the audience of nurses for choosing a life of service out of a love for people that flows from their hearts.
Jeremy Gravell, executive director, and Tina Flach, director of nursing at Life Care Center of Cleveland, spoke of Israel’s sense of humor, his selflessness and his exceptional commitment to those he serves. A video featured several of the center’s residents praising Israel for his work on their behalf.
The ceremony closed with Kelly Wilcoxon, executive secretary to Hunter, presenting angel figurine awards to Israel and his parents, each bearing the inscription: “In Memory of Victoria Soto: A Heart for Students, Life Care 2013.”
“The award was appropriate since Victoria often referred to her students as her ‘little angels,’” Hunter said. “In reality, in the end she became their guardian angel.”
Founded in 1976, Life Care Centers of America is a nationwide health care company. Life Care operates or manages more than 220 nursing, post-acute and Alzheimer’s centers in 28 states. For more information about Life Care, visit lcca.com.