Washington, Feb 16 (IANS/EFE) US President Barack Obama awarded posthumously Friday Presidential Citizens Medals to the six educators who died along with 20 of their students in the Dec 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
"They could have focused on their own safety, on their own wellbeing. But they didn't. They gave their lives to protect the precious children in their care. They gave all they had for the most innocent and helpless among us," Obama said during a ceremony at the White House.
Family members of the Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and teachers Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D'Avino and Anne Marie Murphy were on hand to accept the medals.
The president has used the Sandy Hook massacre to spur Congress to pass measures controlling gun sales.
The six teachers and 12 other recipients of the second-highest honour for civilians after the Medal of Freedom were chosen from among 6,000 people who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens".
Soto, known for her charisma and devotion to children's education, will always be remembered as the teacher who hid her students in a closet to protect them from the bloodbath unleashed on the school by Adam Lanza.
"For those of us in Newtown, these six educators are heroines for their extraordinary acts of courage, just remembering it brings tears to my eyes. We know that many more children would have died if it hadn't been for thoses acts of courage," Newtown Mayor Patricia E. Llodra told EFE.
"I'm happy to be here representing the community...Vicky Soto, you see her picture and you find a loving, wonderful, happy young Puerto Rican woman that we had the good luck to have as a teacher, and we feel her loss" so deeply, the mayor said.
The Presidential Citizens Medal was established in 1969.