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Six months after Newtown, a friendship forged in anguish, shaped by activism


U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), right, speaks as Sandy Hook victim Dawn Hochsprung's daughter Erica Lafferty, center, kisses Sandy Hook victim Vicki Soto's sister Carlee Soto during a news briefing after a vote on the Senate floor on April 17, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Twenty-six families huddled in the firehouse down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, waiting for reunions that would never come.

In the blur of so many anxious faces, Erica Lafferty would later realize there was only one she remembered — Carlee Soto.

"I've been having flashbacks from that day, and she's the only one, except for my family, that I can clearly see," Lafferty said.

Six months later, the two young women are close friends — members of an alliance forged in anguish and shaped through activism.

Soto, 20, is the kid sister of Vicki Soto, the heroic first-grade teacher who put herself between shooter Adam Lanza and her students, likely saving several lives as she was shot and killed.

Lafferty is the daughter of principal Dawn Hochsprung, who ran out of a meeting to confront the gunman when he burst into the school and paid with her life.

The two young women had not met before the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and they did not speak during those awful hours in the firehouse before authorities confirmed their worst fears.

It has been six months since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults. NBC's Natalie Morales reports.

It wasn't until a 5K fund-raising race in Hartford in March that Lafferty, 27, finally got to know Soto and the family's middle sister, Jillian, 24.

“My family kind of adopted her,” said Soto.

“I just took on the big sister role,” said Lafferty, pointing out that she is the same age that Vicki Soto was.

In early April they found themselves together in Washington, D.C., as the Senate geared up for a vote on major gun-control legislation.

“She called me and said, ‘I don’t know how to use the airport. You have to come find me,” Lafferty remembered.

The tentative beginning did not set the tone for the week to come as Soto and Lafferty spent their days walking through the Capitol, demanding to speak with lawmakers, and giving impassioned interviews to the national media.

It may have come more naturally to Lafferty, who worked in sales, but she says that as they were rebuffed at one Senate office after another she found herself depending on the college student seven years her junior.

“I honestly feel like if I didn’t have her there with me, I wouldn’t have gotten through the week,” she said.

“I would say, ‘I can’t do this any more,’ and she picked right up into her cheerleader role and said, ‘No way, we’re not done yet.’”

The trip ended in disappointment: The Manchin-Toomey bill mandating background checks for gun buyers did not get enough votes to block a Republican filibuster.

Lafferty and Soto's determination has not waned. Less than two weeks later, Lafferty was in New Hampshire, dogging Sen. Kelly Ayotte at a public forum for voting against expanded background checks.

After New Hampshire, Lafferty headed to Houston for the NRA convention and then back to Connecticut for the Newtown Action Alliance gun forum. In between, she's been planning her wedding.

Soto — who is working full-time as a baby-sitter after putting college on hold — returned to Washington this week with her sister Jillian for events leading up to the six-month anniversary and tweeted that she was missing Lafferty.

"Sometimes the things I do, my other friends don’t understand why I need to do it," Carlee said. "I’ll sit in my room and watch tribute videos and Erica understands it.

"It's sad we have to bond over the death of our loved ones but it’s nice knowing there is somebody going through the same thing that I am."

She bombards Lafferty with Snapchat photos and videos.

"The most obnoxious Snapchats of her singing," Lafferty said. "They always come on the worst day at the worst moment, when I need to smile.

"It's crazy that before you even really know people, you just feel this bond to them," she added. "We were forced into the worst imaginable decision but we were forced into it together."

Carlee and Jillian, the two sisters of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Victoria Soto, lead a crowd gathered at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, Conn. for a 26-second moment of silence in honor of the victims of the tragedy.