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Honor the heroes of Newtown

Ted Kowalczuk Milford Conn. his friend Rachel Schiavone Norwalk Conn. attend candlelight vigil held behind Stratford High School Town Hall

Ted Kowalczuk, of Milford, Conn., and his friend Rachel Schiavone, of Norwalk, Conn., attend a candlelight vigil held behind Stratford High School on the Town Hall Green in Stratford, Conn. on Saturday December 15, 2012. Kowalczuk and Schiavone were close friends to Stratford High graduate Vicki Soto, who was killed in yesterday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Soto was a teacher at the school.(AP Photo/The Connecticut Post, Christian Abraham) MANDATORY CREDIT

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Updated: January 21, 2013 3:48PM

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a horrific act of the utmost cowardice. God must have a hellish punishment for those who slaughter students and teachers.

As a father, I am grateful to the heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary School who prevented more carnage. Our nation will forever honor those who sacrificed their lives trying to protect their students and whose brave acts saved the lives of many children.

As Newtown buries 20 children and six adults, let’s pay tribute to those who put their lives on the line for their students. The families of those brave educators have the respect and gratitude of all.

Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach died confronting the alleged shooter Adam Lanza. Teacher Victoria Soto reportedly died trying to shield her students from bullets.

District Superintendent Janet Robinson noted their “incredible acts of heroism.” Many others acted courageously that fateful Friday morning.

In his speech last Sunday, President Barack Obama acknowledged that no one knows how we will react in the face of extreme danger. We only hope we would behave as honorably as those educators did.

The bravery of teacher Victoria Soto has received worldwide attention. The 27-year-old teacher of Puerto Rican descent has emerged as a hero in the tragic shooting. According to news reports, the first-grade teacher ushered her students into a closet and placed her body between them and the assailant.

“You have a teacher who cared more about her students than herself,” Mayor John Harkins of Soto’s hometown of Stratford, Conn., said to the Associated Press. “That speaks volumes to her character, and her commitment and dedication.”

Soto lived with her parents, her sisters, and a brother in Stratford. She had been a teacher at Sandy Hook for five years and called her students “angels.”

Hundreds turned out for a Saturday night memorial to honor Soto in Stratford. She was laid to rest Wednesday in her hometown.

Soto has been hailed as a hero in Puerto Rico too. The newspaper El Nuevo Día featured Soto’s photo as the main story on its cover several times.

Six-year-old student of Puerto Rican descent Ana Greene Marquez also died in the rampage at the school. Ana was the daughter of saxophonist Jimmy Greene, and her mother is a native of Puerto Rico. Ana was the niece of Mayor Jorge Marquez of Manabí, Puerto Rico.

I bristle at the suggestion that Soto and the other educators who were killed could have saved their students if only they had carried a weapon. Our country shouldn’t become a place where teachers carry M-16s to feel safe.

“Teachers teach. Law enforcement officers protect and enforce the law. Legislators create the law,” Amalia Pallares, associate professor of political science and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me. “This ‘let teachers arm themselves’ ridiculousness assumes teachers want to be armed. Most of us do not.”

The true strength of our country can be found in the love and dedication Victoria Soto, Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach and others demonstrated to their students. Their valor has nothing to do with carrying a gun.

They made the ultimate sacrifice protecting the lives of their students.

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