The uncle of a baby orphaned in the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, stated he had been harassed and the target of death threats after a photograph went viral of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump holding the infant.
Twenty-two people were killed and dozens injured in the Saturday-morning massacre in a busy Walmart store. Two of the deceased included the baby's parents, Andre and Jordan Anchondo. The couple had died while shielding the infant from bullets, becoming two of more than 30 people who died in mass shootings in roughly one week in the U.S.
Three were killed one week prior to El Paso in an attack on a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, and nine died in a shooting in a nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio, one day after El Paso.
The controversy over the picture started on Aug. 8, when the first lady tweeted it from her official Twitter account, along with other images of the first couple visiting hospitals where mass-shooting victims were being treated.
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) August 8, 2019
Among the images she tweeted was one of herself holding a baby while the president, standing on her right, made a thumbs-up gesture and grinned. The image was taken the day the Trumps visited Dayton and El Paso and was taken at University Medical Center in El Paso. The baby, 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, had suffered minor injuries in the attack but had already been discharged when he was brought back to meet the president.
Some took to social media to express disdain for what they felt was a display of insensitivity, citing the fact that Patrick Crusius, the suspected gunman, reportedly admitted to police he specifically targeted Latino people and that President Trump has invoked hateful rhetoric directed at Latinos in the past.
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.
I would need 280,000 characters to say how furious I am. pic.twitter.com/4umSc9BQHu
— Greg Pinelo (@gregpinelo) August 9, 2019
But the story behind the picture isn't so black and white. The infant's uncle, Tito Anchondo, said he wanted to take the boy to meet the Trumps when they visited El Paso, in part because his slain brother, Andre, the baby's father, was a supporter of the president. The uncle also wanted to express the family's grief to the commander-in-chief.
Trump was there "as a human being, consoling us and giving his condolences," Tito Anchondo told the Washington Post, adding that he didn't feel the visit was political. When asked if he felt consoled after having a private conversation with Trump, Aronchondo answered, "Yes, definitely."
But the controversy over the photograph took on a life of its own, setting off a rash of hateful messages directed at the family and disagreement within the family over whether the picture should have been taken in the first place. An aunt stated the family had wished to remain neutral politically as they grieve.
As part of the fallout over the picture, Tito Anchondo told The Associated Press he had received death threats, prompting some websites to spin the statement into headlines like, "Family of couple who died protecting their infant child in El Paso gets death threats over Trump photo."
Perhaps because of the unfortunate reality that hoaxes and misinformation often follow mass shootings, some readers inquired as to whether the headlines reporting Tito Anchondo received death threats were true. We reached out to Anchondo for comment via Facebook but have not yet received a response. But he told The Associated Press, "We should be coming together as a country at this time instead of threatening each other with hate messages."
Although we were unable to reach Anchondo, we see no reason to doubt his statement to the press about death threats. Major news events often result in internet harassment. In just one unrelated example, trolls in April 2019 launched a campaign to discredit a scientist who helped capture the first image of a black hole event horizon because they were upset the scientist was female.