STRATFORD, Conn. – "My best friend is gone and I don't know what I’m going to do without her," Vicki Soto's youngest sister, Carlee, said to more than 300 people that packed the church where her funeral service was held.
Young boys were part of the crowd in Stratford's Lordship Community Church who came to say good-bye to this first-grade teacher who died a hero saving at least a dozen of young, innocent lives.
Victoria “Vicki” Soto was among 27 people killed by gunman Adam Lanza Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he indiscriminately opened fire on staff members and 6- and 7-year-old students. She was 27 years old.
My best friend is gone and I don't know what I’m going to do without her.
- Vicky's youngest sister, Carlee Soto
"She loved them more than anything, they were supposed to do gingerbread on Friday," said Rachel Schiavone, Vicki's best friend and her college roommate.
One of the most moving moments of the ceremony was when musical icon Paul Simon sang “The Sounds of Silence” and mourners erupted in sobs.
Vicki's father, Carlos Soto, was holding an image of his daughter, whose favorite color was green. The Puerto Rican spoke in Spanish as he talked about her life-long dream of being a teacher.
Soto is being called a “Hispanic Hero” among numerous members of the Puerto Rican community. Ramón Sánchez, from the Bronx in New York, traveled to Stratford, Conn. to attend Soto's funeral, even though he is not related to her.
"We came here to express our solidarity and compassion” said Sanchez.
Some staff members from Sandy Hook also attended the ceremony, which included bagpipes and a long police funeral procession escorting Soto's funeral car.
"I went to school with her little brother Charlie Jr.,” said Michael Wales, who was a close friend of the family and used to spend time at Vicki's house. “Vicki always seemed so nice, always a nice person. Things like this shouldn't happen at our schools.”
Some of her students went to the church Wednesday morning carrying hand-drawn paintings they drew in honor of their teacher’s memory.
It was the third straight day of funerals in Newtown. Students Charlotte Bacon and Caroline Previdi were to be laid to rest later Wednesday, and calling hours were being held for popular 47-year-old principal Dawn Hochsprung. She and school psychologist Mary Sherlach rushed toward Lanza in an attempt to stop him and paid with their lives.
With reporting from The Associated Press.
Denny Alfonso is a freelance writer based in New York City.