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Connecticut town names school for slain Sandy Hook teacher

(Reuters) - In the first permanent public memorial created after last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the nearby town of Stratford, Connecticut, has named a local school for a teacher slain in the attack who was hailed as a hero.

The Stratford Town Council late on Monday, a month to the day following the attack, voted unanimously to name a new school the Victoria Soto Elementary School. Soto, 27, was killed when she tried to protect her students from an armed gunman, who shot and killed 20 first-graders and six staff members on December 14.

Soto grew up in Stratford, a coastal town about 22 milessouth of Newtown, where Sandy Hook Elementary is located.

Police have said some of Soto's first-grade students escaped the massacre because she hid them in a closet as the gunman approached.

"She is my big sister, and this doesn't surprise me in any way that she was a hero in this tragedy," her younger sister Jillian Soto said after the town council vote.

In Newtown, residents have only just begun debating what should be done with the Sandy Hook school, which remains closed to everyone but police. The town's highest elected officials said it would be months before a decision is made.

At a town forum on Sunday, ideas from residents ranged from razing the school for a memorial, converting it to a planetarium and basing a peace center there. Parents of Sandy Hook's pupils, who now attend classes at a converted middle school in the neighboring town of Monroe, were divided on whether their children should ever again attend school at the Sandy Hook building.

A month after the rampage, authorities have yet to offer a motive behind 20-year-old Adam Lanza's attack. Lanza, described by family friends as having Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their home about 5 miles from the school before carrying out the Sandy Hook attack. Lanza shot himself dead following the rampage.

The mass killings plunged Newtown, a New England town of 27,000 residents about 70 miles northeast of New York City, into grief, along with much of the rest of the nation.

The shootings prompted President Barack Obama to place Vice President Joe Biden at the head of a task force that will recommend ways to curb gun violence. Lawmakers in New York State, meanwhile, were expected on Tuesday to pass the first new gun control law in the country since the shooting.

On Monday, a group of relatives and neighbors of the victims launched an initiative, called Sandy Hook Promise, to work toward ending gun violence in America.

(Writing by Dan Burns; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)

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