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.


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)


Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.


Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…


OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…


MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.


Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."


'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.


'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."


TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.


Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.


Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.


Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”


Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.


Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.


Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…


NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.


The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.