The town council voted Monday to name a new elementary school in memory of Victoria Soto, a young teacher and resident who was killed in the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown.
Soto, 27, was remembered as the heroic, quick-thinking first grade teacher who hid her students under her desk and behind bookshelves, saving many lives while losing her own. She had attended Stratford High School.
Soto's sister Jillian, and cousin Jim Wiltsie attended Monday's meeting.
"I feel really happy. I'm happy to know that the town was able to come together and pass this, and I'm honored to know that my sister's [memory is] alive and she will never be forgotten," said Jillian Soto, 24. "I've always called her a hero; she's my big sister."
Wiltsie said: "Her entire life revolved around being an educator and now she has a school named after her, so that's great."
The new building will be called The Victoria Soto School. The idea to name the school in Soto's memory was proposed by Stratford Mayor John Harkins. He couldn't attend Monday's meeting because of a family emergency.
Soto was one of six educators and 20 young students who were killed in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The unanimous vote was preceded by bitter arguments over Councilwoman Stephanie Phillips' effort to introduce a resolution supporting congressional action on gun control, including a ban on assault weapons.
Several residents spoke in support of naming the school in Soto's memory, and others supported Phillips' resolution and urged council Chairman Joseph Kubic to add it to the agenda. When the meeting was called to order after the public forum, heated debate broke out on the council.
"I believe we have not done enough until we act at every level to reduce the causes of gun violence in society," said Phillips, one of two Democrats on the Republican-controlled council.
"In regards to Victoria Soto and how we can honor her, which is what tonight was supposed to be about until Councilwoman Phillips intervened with her own agenda — I can say that as a teacher, I know I can speak on behalf of all educators when I say it would be an honor to have a school named after Victoria Soto," said Councilman Ken Poisson. "Victoria's a product of the Stratford public schools and she should never be forgotten."
"Today the conversation became more about Councilman Phillips' resolution than honoring Ms. Soto," Kubic said.
Councilman James Connor told Phillips: "My concern… was we were going to lose sight of Victoria Soto, and you, personally, are responsible and so is the Democratic Town Committee," he said,
Wiltsie said he was "a little disappointed" by how the meeting turned out.
"We didn't want the meeting to go that way," he said. "Tonight was supposed to be about honoring Vickie's legacy."