Andres Soto Jr. dreamed of one day becoming a counselor for at-risk kids prone to violence.
Earlier this month, Soto, 20, was shot and killed while standing outside on Lexington’s Oxford Circle. Since then, a 15-year-old has been charged with murder in the shooting.
“It’s a terrible irony that what he wanted to do was to counsel that kind of kid,” said Elise Crisp, who taught Soto throughout his five years at The Learning Center at Linlee. Soto graduated in 2013 from the Learning Center, a school specially designed to empower disenfranchised children, said the school’s founding principal Ronald Chi.
Soto’s family, friends and mentors remember him as someone who worked to overcome adversity and to help others do the same.
According to police, Soto was standing outside with his cousin on Oxford Circle at 3:25 a.m. on Dec. 7 when he was shot. He later died at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.
There is no evidence that indicates Soto knew the shooter, Lexington police Sgt. Ann Welch said.
When Soto was young, he joined a gang, his brother Bernardo Soto said. But Andres decided that wasn’t a good path for him.
“We were raised up a little rough,” Bernardo Soto said. “We saw some rough stuff on the streets.”
Andres Soto loved to read, and mostly sought out books about kids that were in gangs but were able to get out, Crisp said.
“He wanted to be a youth counselor to help children get out of situations where they didn’t feel like they had any hope,” she said.
You’d see this kid, he was one of the bigger kids, and you’d think he looked like he might be a bully. But he stood up for kids that got bullied, he didn’t care who they were.
He got excited about school and about learning when he started going to the Learning Center, Bernardo Soto said.
One year, Andres Soto told every teacher that would listen that he wanted a public library card, Crisp said. He wanted more book options than just what was in the school library.
Andres Soto’s mom was in Mexico at the time, and the librarian initially wouldn’t give him the card because Crisp was not his parent. Eventually, Crisp convinced the librarian that teachers are custodial parents during the school day and that she could vouch for him.
He was elated when he got the card, Crisp said.
“He just kept saying, ‘Look at all the books!,’” she said.
Andres Soto was always a joker and a good listener, Bernardo Soto said.
“If you had a problem, he’d listen to you and even cry for you,” Bernardo Soto said. “He was always nice, no matter what happened to him he never held a grudge against anyone.”
Andres Soto was a goofball, his brother said.
“He loved to joke around,” Bernardo Soto said. “Even the day he got shot, when he fell, I guess he knew he wasn’t going to make it, but my cousin said he still had a big smile on his face.”
Despite his kindness, Andres Soto’s appearance was sometimes intimidating, his brother said.
“He always said to everyone ‘I hate that I’m so big, everyone thinks I’m scary, but I’m not like that,’” Bernardo Soto said.
But as soon as people got to know him, they realized Andres wasn’t what he seemed.
“You’d see this kid, he was one of the bigger kids, and you’d think he looked like he might be a bully,” Crisp said. “But he stood up for kids that got bullied, he didn’t care who they were.”
Andres Soto took his desire to help others outside of the classroom, Chi said. He led presentation efforts for the city’s Senior Center Project.
He also led panel discussions for graduate education students and was a student leader, Chi said. He was very active in the school and challenged teachers to value students from any background.
“Andres regularly shared his ideas about how teachers might be more effective in reaching youth from the margins of society,” his mentor Kerby Neill wrote. “The current Learning Center principal said teachers wanted to spend time with Andres because you knew you were going to become a better teacher.”
In the time before his death, Andres Soto was working to find his own path to becoming a counselor for troubled youth, Crisp said.
“He wanted to go to college, but he struggled taking the ACT; he didn’t feel that the test measured his abilities,” Chi said. “Andres made an impact on our community, but in the current system his options are limited with a low ACT score.”
Andres Soto wasn’t sure how he was going to get there, but he knew he wanted to motivate kids and help them get out of bad situations, Crisp said.
“His main goal was to help out kids, especially those that don’t understand that education is important, that don’t pay attention,” Bernardo Soto said. “He was trying to bring it up and make sure kids have a future. The kids today are the future of tomorrow and that’s what he lived by.”