12/15/2012 AT 6:30 PM ET
Out of the chaos and horror emerged an incredible act of selflessness and bravery by one teacher who spent her final moments trying to protect her young students from harm.
Victoria Soto, 27, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., ushered her students into a closet, and in so doing placed her body between them and the assailant.
“She was found huddled over her children, her students, doing instinctively what she knew was the right thing,” her cousin Jim Wiltsie tells ABC News.
“I’m just proud that Vicki had the instincts to protect her kids from harm,” he continued. “It brings peace to know that Vicki was doing what she loved, protecting the children, and, in our eyes, she’s a hero.”
Soto was among the six adults, all women, killed in the Friday morning massacre that also took the lives of 20 children – 12 girls and eight boys. The gunman, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, took his own life. His mother was also found killed in a different location.