Newtown victim’s sister turns gun control ‘accidental activist’

Twenty-seven wooden angel figures are seen placed in a wooded area beside a road near the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Credit: Reuters
Twenty-seven wooden angel figures are seen placed in a wooded area beside a road near the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Credit: Reuters

Jillian Soto was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a New England highway when she learned over Facebook that her older sister Vicky, a first-grade teacher in Newtown, Connecticut, had died in a shooting.

In the six months since, Soto said she has become an accidental activist for gun control measures, like expanded background checks in gun purchases, and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

Soto, who is 24, travels regularly to Washington to meet with lawmakers. Those trips continued even after April, when a background checks bill that enjoyed broad popular support failed in the U.S. Senate.

The defeat was a stinging blow to gun control advocates who had sworn that the public’s anger after the Newtown shooting would lead to new laws.

On Thursday, Soto and her younger siblings stood with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other elected officials as the Nevada Democrat vowed to revive a background check bill.

“I think we still have quite a ways to go, but I feel like we are getting somewhere, we are continuing to have the discussion about gun control,” Soto said in an interview. “It’s just going to take some time.”

Before the morning of December 14, when a shooter forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot 20 students and six adults, Soto said she knew little about guns. But thinking about Vicky’s actions that day – hiding her students and intercepting a spray of bullets – had inspired her to work for gun control.

“I remember that my sister died fighting for her kids’ safety, fighting for her kids to live. And I will continue to fight like she did, to make sure that nobody else has to go through this pain that my family is enduring,” Soto said.

Still, asked what her life has been like over the last six months, Soto used a single word: “hell.” Her new experience lobbying lawmakers, while positive in most ways, has been frustrating as well.

“Having Congress people look family members in the eyes who have been effected so badly and say that there’s nothing we can do, it’s disgusting and they should be ashamed of themselves,” she said.

‘WORST MOMENT OF MY LIFE’

Soto was on a ski vacation in Vermont with her boyfriend and two other friends when she learned there had been a shooting at her sister’s school. They jumped into a car and began making their way back to Connecticut, but encountered heavy traffic.

While thumbing through her Facebook page on her phone, Soto began reading condolence notes about her 27-year-old sister.

“It was by far the worst moment of my life to know that my sister was dead, and my family never even had the opportunity to tell me that,” she said. “And I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic when I found out that my sister was dead and there was nothing that I could do.”

“I remember just knowing that I wanted to do something to get change,” she said.

She has been working closely with Newtown Action Alliance and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped found and largely funds.

Through her work, Soto said she has grown close with others who lost family members in recent mass shootings, like the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people. And while those relationships provide comfort, the feeling is bittersweet.

“We are our own group that nobody ever wanted to be a part of,” she said.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
News

Easter Egg hunt horror as skydiver plummets to…

A FAMILY Easter egg hunt ended in horror when a skydiver plummeted to his death in a New York garden after his parachute failed to…

News

Boston Marathon 2014 on high alert, Red Sox…

One year on from the horrific Boston Marathon bombings a ring of steel has been thrown around today's race, and a city stands defiant against…

News

Boston Strong: One year on from Boston Marathon…

  For more than a century the Boston Marathon has been an even centred around sportsmanship, endurance and athleticism, but there's no denying the face…

Local

Best nature spots for kids in New York…

When it comes to kids and nature, most U.S. parents agree: children should be spending more time outdoors. According to a recent survey by The…

Television

‘Mad Men’ recap: Season 7, Episode 2, ‘A…

Peggy and Lou are horrible, Bert's racist, Don is honest(ish) and Roger and Pete are frustrated. "A Day's Work" not quite worthy of "This Will Be Our Year."

Television

'Game of Thrones' recap: Season 4, Episode 3,…

The problem with the devil you know is that ignoring them doesn’t mean they simply lie in wait. It allows them time to do things…

Television

Discovery cancels 'Everest Jump Live' special in wake…

The Discovery Channel has indicated it will not be moving forward with "Everest Jump Live," a planned special about mountain climber Joby Ogwyn's effort to…

The Word

'X-Men' director Bryan Singer drama continues

  News broke late last week that "X-Men" and "The Usual Suspects" director Bryan Singer is being sued by a man who said Singer molested…

NHL

Rangers let chance at victory slip away in…

All the Rangers had to do was hold serve in a raucous Madison Square Garden — roaring in anticipation of putting a hated rival in a 2-0 series hole.

MLB

Yankees place Ivan Nova on DL with partially…

Yankees starter Ivan Nova was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in his throwing elbow Sunday.

NHL

Rangers never thought opening round would be 'an…

You might have thought the Metropolitan Division semifinal series was going to be a rout after watching Game 1 Thursday night. The Rangers did not.

NHL

Rangers blow two-goal lead in Game 2 loss…

The Rangers got out to an early 2-0 lead in Game 2 and the Garden was rocking. But it went downhill quickly from there.

Travel

Packing: The one thing you need in your…

A new survey that looks at the travel habits of 50,000 people around the world has revealed that Western and Asian globetrotters have different priorities…

Home

Is your chair making it hard to talk?

Ever wished there was an office chair that could make impromptu meetings and discussions more private? The Cristiana Wing Chair is an asymmetrical armchair which…

Travel

Live large at these luxury hotels

From Thai boxing lessons and macabre Dracula tours to the Australian Outback, the Four Seasons hotel chain launched a series of new travel packages this…

Parenting

4 things that every summer camp should have

Alan Saltz, director of the 92nd street Y program lists things that every summer camp should have.