During a trip to victims at University Medical Center, the first couple took a photo with Paul Anchondo, an infant whose parents were killed in the shooting.
Jordan and Andre were shopping for school supplies for their 5-year-old daughter on Aug. 3 when gunfire erupted, Jordan’s aunt Elizabeth Terry told CNN. During the incident, Jordan shielded her baby while Andre shielded his wife, Jordan’s father, Paul Jamrowski, told the Today show.
On Thursday, Mrs. Trump was seen holding the baby, whom a senior White House official confirmed to CNN is the son of Jordan Anchondo, 25, and Andre Anchondo, 24. The president gave a thumbs-up and smiled for the photo op with the baby’s relatives, including the infant’s uncle Tito Anchondo.
Tito also told the Associated Press that President Trump “was just there to give his condolences and he was just being a human being.” Tito previously told NPR that his brother was a Trump supporter and he is, too.
Some liberal critics of the president criticized the tone of the photographed moment, following criticism that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was at the least an echo of a manifesto the suspected El Paso shooter is believed to have written.
“This is a photo of Trump grinning while Melania holds a baby orphaned by the shooting. A baby who was taken from home and forced to serve as a prop at a photo-op for the very monster whose hate killed her/his parents,” Democratic strategist Greg Pinelo tweeted in response to the photo. “I would need 280,000 characters to say how furious I am.”
Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas tweeted, “I’ve don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who would think the appropriate response would be flashing a smile and thumbs up. Something is wrong with him.”
WNYC journalist Tanzina Vega added on CNN that there was a “tone-deafness” to Trump’s visits to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio where a second mass shooting occurred this week.
The first lady posted a series of photos from the trip on Twitter, writing, “Met many incredible people in Dayton, Ohio & El Paso, Texas yesterday. Their communities are strong and unbreakable. @potus and I stand with you!”
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) August 8, 2019
Meanwhile, a hospital official told CNN’s Jim Acosta that the president acted with “an absence of empathy” during the hospital visit.
According to TIME, Tito did not wish to describe his visit with Trump in further detail, adding that 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.
Other relatives of the Anchondos’ baby were split by the decision to involve the president, according to a New York Times article published Monday.
Terry, Jordan’s aunt, reportedly wrote on Facebook that “we did not want to have our precious baby Paul thrusted into a political battlefield.” Jordan’s family had wanted to be “politically neutral,” according to the Times.
The paper reports that the family had also been targeted by some of the backlash, including by online commenters who wrote, “This is what you voted for as a Trump supporter.”