(EL PASO) — The uncle of a 2-month-old boy whose parents were killed in the El Paso mass shooting is defending a photo that shows first lady Melania Trump holding the baby while President Donald Trump smiles and gives a thumbs-up gesture.
The photo was released on Twitter by the first lady’s office and drew backlash from some who thought it reflected a lack of empathy and politicized the shootings.
The Republican president and first lady Melania Trump had flown to El Paso late Wednesday after visiting the Dayton, Ohio hospital where many of the victims of Sunday’s attack in that city were treated. For most of the day, the president was kept out of view of the reporters traveling with him, but the White House said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.
Tito Anchondo, the uncle of baby Paul Anchondo, told The Associated Press on Friday that Trump “was just there to give his condolences and he was just being a human being.” He previously told NPR that he and his brother were Trump supporters.
“Is it that hard to try and understand that a family is trying to not be sad at a moment like this?” said Anchondo, who also appears in the photo along with his sister. “We’re trying to be as strong as we can. … My brother is gone.”
The child’s parents, Andre and Jordan Anchondo, were among 22 killed and about two dozen wounded when a gunman opened fire Saturday inside a Walmart packed with shoppers. Authorities say Jordan Ancondo was shielding the baby, while her husband shielded them both. The boy suffered broken fingers.
Tito Anchondo declined to describe the encounter with Trump in more detail, saying he had received death threats. “We should be coming together as a country at this time instead of threatening each other with hate messages,” he said.
Authorities say the gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, confessed after surrendering and said he had been targeting Mexicans.
John Jamrowski, the grandfather of Jordan Anchondo, told AP he received an early-morning phone call Wednesday from a hospital inviting his family to schedule a meeting with the president. Jamrowski said he declined in an effort to stay out of the political fray and avoid misinterpretations. “We’re politically neutral,” he said Friday. “We discussed it as a family and said, ‘You know what, this could be spun around.'”
Jamrowski declined comment about the photo of his great-grandson.