Newtown massacre: Teacher Vicki Soto's heroics remembered

Hero teacher gave life to save students
It seems one of the ironies - and truisms - of tragedies, is heroes emerge. Peter Van Sant reports on the story of Sandy Hook Elementary first-grade teacher Vicki Soto, 27, who died shielding her students from the gunman.
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(CBS News) Amid the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, there was heroism. Surviving children at Sandy Hook Elementary were witness to the ultimate example, a teacher who gave her life to save theirs. CBS News spoke with the parents of a child who escaped the massacre.

Robert and Diane Licata's children are now safe at home. Much has happened since the shootings on Friday. But on Saturday afternoon when CBS News spoke with the parents, the emotions were still raw, and the story their 6-year-old son told them, beyond imagining.

Robert Licata said of his son, "He's an amazingly brave little boy. He's doing OK. We're trying to explain things to him in a way he understands."

Robert and Diane Licata are faced with explaining the unexplainable. Their 6-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter were both at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning. The parents asked we not use their children's names. As of Saturday afternoon, they hadn't told their son his teacher had died.

Robert Licata said, "He's obviously upset. He wants to know about his teacher, how his teacher is doing. We're explaining to him that we don't know, but if something did happen, that they're in heaven. And they're angels."

His teacher was Vicki Soto. Known for her dedication to her students, Soto had just turned 27 years old. Diane Licata said of Soto, "She was an absolutely amazing teacher. She was just so young and so full of life and educating got her so excited and teaching those children, it was what she loved to do."

Diane Licata was driving at 9:45 Friday morning when she got an emergency message from the school district -- a report of an unconfirmed shooting. She made a U-turn and headed toward Sandy Hook Elementary.

Diane Licata said, "I saw my daughter's teacher, and I asked her where my daughter was. And she said she didn't know because they were separated."

Diane Licata said she was "completely numb" in that moment. She added, "You're trying not to let your mind go to all the bad places."

After an agonizing wait, the children who survived the shooting began to file out. Suddenly, Diane Licata spotted her daughter.

"She just said 'Mommy what's happening?' and I said, 'I don't know what's happening, so just stay with your class, go to the fire station, stay with your friends, and Daddy will be here', " Diane Licata recalled.

"So Robert went to the station and I said, 'I'm gonna wait here for our son to come out.' And he didn't come. So each group that came out, I waited. And I prayed that he would be with that group. And he never came out. So I really, at that point, really didn't know if I would ever see him again. At that point, I got a text from a friend. And it simply said that our son was at the police station."

Her son had escaped. He later told his parents a remarkable story of the nightmare unfolding inside his classroom. When the shooting began inside Sandy Hook Elementary, teacher Vicky Soto moved the children in Classroom 10 against a wall, away from the door, and that's when the little boy came face-to-face with the gunman.

Robert Licata said, "Somehow the person was able to burst open the door. And basically at that point, that's when they witnessed his teacher (being) shot. And they all ran. My son was the last one out with the children that he escaped with. They ran right by the shooter who was in the doorway. How they escaped we still, to this day, don't know if we'll ever really know, exactly how they managed to get past him. And they ran out the door. ... They ran past the shooter."

Diane Licata, asked if some of the children saw some of the victims, said, "They did."

The children got out, but the young teacher who had bravely shielded her students, was left dead.

Diane Licata said, "I know she would have done anything to protect those kids. I know she would have, and I know she did everything she could at that moment. In the chaos and ascertaining what was happening. She is truly a hero. And it's very likely that it's because of her that our son is with us today."

Victims of Conn. school shooting
Photo of victim Vicki Soto signed by President Obama CBS/Carlee Sotos

President Obama echoed that sentiment on Sunday night in Newtown. He said of Soto and her colleagues, "They responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances, with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care."

On Sunday, the Licatas told their son his teacher was with the angels.

There is a grassroots effort underway to honor Vicki Soto with the highest award granted to civilian, the Medal of Freedom. So far the petition has more than 7,000 signatures.

For Peter Van Sant's full report, watch the video above.