Tito Anchondo wishes people would stop politicizing his family’s tragedy.
Anchondo, who lost his beloved brother and sister-in-law in the rampage outside an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on Saturday, said he chose to take his orphaned nephew to University Medical Center of El Paso on Wednesday to meet the president and first lady. The 2-month-old suffered two broken fingers in the shooting but survived after his parents, Andre and Jordan Anchondo, shielded him from the gunfire and were slain themselves.
Tito Anchondo said he wanted to meet the president to tell him about his family’s grievous pain. “He was just there as a human being, consoling us and giving his condolences,” he said about Trump in an interview outside his family’s auto-body shop in south-central El Paso.
Melania Trump posted a photo Thursday on Twitter showing the meeting with Tito Anchondo, his sister, Deborah Ontiveros, and the infant. In the photo, Melania holds the baby, while Trump smiles and gives a thumbs-up – an image that drew anger on social media. Some criticized the president’s facial expression and thumbs-up at such a somber moment and questioned why the infant was photographed with a leader whom some blame for inciting the violence that killed his parents.
But Anchondo strongly rejects that view of the shootings and said he did not want the photo to be seen through a political lens. Anchondo previously told NPR that his family is Republican and his murdered brother had supported Trump.
The president “wasn’t there to be pushing any kind of political agenda,” he said, describing “a private conversation between human beings.”
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) August 8, 2019
Asked if he felt consoled by the conversation, he said, “Yes, definitely.”
Tito Anchondo declined to discuss what the president and the family discussed, but he told NPR that he wanted to meet Trump and form his own opinions.
“I want to see if he’s genuine and see if my political views are right or wrong, and see if he feels maybe some kind of remorse for statements that he’s made,” he told NPR. “I just want to have a human-to-human talk with him and see how he feels.”
University Medical Center spokesman Ryan Mielke said the hospital had reached out to the Anchondo family and other discharged patients on Tuesday, the day before the president’s visit, after it became clear that none of the hospitalized shooting victims would meet him.
A White House official who was granted anonymity to discuss the meeting with the family, said Trump was told about the baby and that the relative with the child was kind and seemed to want a picture with the president.
Trump took other thumbs-up photos at the hospital, too, the official said, noting that other such pictures have concerned White House aides who have encouraged him to strike a more empathetic tone.
The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.