Orphaned toddler grows up in shadow of massacre, coronavirus

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In this May 23, 2020 photo provided by Tito Anchondo, Paul Anchondo is held by his grandmother, Brenda Anchondo in El Paso, Texas. The toddler is unlikely to learn until years from now what happened to his parents in events that many El Paso residents still struggle to comprehend, said uncle Tito Anchondo, whose brother Andre and sister-in-law Jordan died in the shooting at a Walmart store last year. (Herman Delgado via The AP)

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An infant boy who survived a shooting last year that left his parents and 21 others dead now likes to thumb through picture books and dance to a Batman jingle with his grandmother, according to an uncle who helps care for the 1-year-old.

It will be years before Paul Anchondo learns what happened to his parents in an event that many El Paso residents still struggle to comprehend, Tito Anchondo said. Anchondo’s brother Andre and sister-in-law Jordan died in the shooting at a Walmart store.

“We’ve been putting collections together of my brother’s photos, his accomplishments, basically trying to get as much information that we can and save it for” the boy, Tito Anchondo said. “When he does get to that age, we can tell him, ‘You know what, like, this is what happened to your dad. … Something horrible happened to your mom and dad. But, you know, we’re still here.'”

Authorities say Jordan Anchondo shielded the baby from gunfire, while her husband shielded them both. Paul suffered broken fingers and became the focus of public adulation as a seemingly miraculous survivor of the horror.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Paul in the hospital.His first birthday, during the coronavirus pandemic, was attended by a drive-by caravan of cars and motorcycles.

Tito Anchondo said “baby Paul” won’t attend a series of events associated with the anniversary of the Aug. 3, 2019, shooting because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Paul’s paternal grandmother has health conditions that could make her extra vulnerable to the virus.

A relative of the boy’s deceased mother declined to offer thoughts on the anniversary of the shooting. Tito acknowledged that Paul has been the focus of court-supervised custody negotiations between his paternal and maternal families.

Tito Anchondo’s parents grew up in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, adjacent to El Paso. He works with his father at their auto-body repair shop in El Paso and describes himself as a patriot who regards the United States as a land of opportunity. He supports the president without reservations.

Tito said the mass shooting opened his eyes to divisive political, racial and ethnic tensions beyond El Paso. Authorities say the gunman was targeting Latinos.

“The shooting was the biggest racist attack on Mexican Americans, and to me that was something that was, you know, nonexistent,” he said. “Call it privilege (from) living in El Paso, one of the safest cities in the United States.”


Lee reported from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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