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President Donald Trump was not exactly welcomed with open arms this week in El Paso, Texas, where his attempts to meet with injured victims of the mass shooting that killed 22 people were turned down, according to multiple news reports.
The exact number of recovering victims who declined to meet with the president is unclear. A spokesman for the city’s University Medical Center said that the eight victims there on Wednesday — five in critical condition and three in serious — all did not meet with Trump.
“This is a very sensitive time in their lives,” UMC’s Ryan Mielke told The Washington Post. “Some of them said they didn’t want to meet with the president, some of them didn’t want any visitors.”
Mielke noted, however, that two victims who had already been discharged returned to the hospital with their families in order to meet with Trump. (Neither the White House nor Mielke immediately responded to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.)
Local TV station KDBC reported that two victims’ families didn’t want to see Trump, including relatives of slain Jorge Calvillo Garcia, whose injured brother was also hospitalized at UMC.
“I wish he [Trump] wouldn’t have needed to come. I think he just came to do a circus,” Saul Chavez told KDBC. “He was the one who brewed up all of this hatred against Mexicans. I guess he forgot what he said.”
Relatives of a father and daughter who were injured, with the father still in the hospital, told KDBC they didn’t want him there either.
“The whole family said if he wants to go into the room, no. We don’t want him in the patient’s room. And we respect all of our families opinion,” relative Leticia Mariscal said. “Because of the way he talked against Mexicans, against Hispanics so we don’t want to a person that are against our Mexicans.”
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The backlash to Trump’s visit followed earlier criticism that his history of inflammatory and sometimes racist rhetoric — including warning of an “invasion” of immigrants — at the least echoes if not emboldens violent white supremacists.
The suspected gunman in the El Paso shooting, a 21-year-old man, is believed to have written a hate-filled manifesto with white nationalist themes.
Meanwhile, UMC said in a news release that Trump met with hospital staff, families and victims during his visit. Journalists at the hospital were forbidden from observing though.
“Our entire UMC team performed exceedingly well on Aug. 3 [in the shooting aftermath], along with our partner physicians from Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso and the entire team at El Paso Children’s Hospital,” said Jacob Cintron, UMC’s president and CEO. “This was an opportunity for us to showcase our expertise and facility, a place that our entire region can look to for the highest level of care.”
White House Press Sectary Stephanie Grisham said the president met “victims of the tragedy while at the hospital,” where he and First Lady Melania Trump were “received very warmly by not just victims and their families, but by the many members of medical staff,” according to the Post.
Trump spoke glowingly on Twitter about his trip, which he made the same day he visited Dayton, Ohio, the site of another mass shooting some 13 hours after the El Paso attack.
“Leaving El Paso for the White House. What GREAT people I met there and in Dayton, Ohio. The Fake News worked overtime trying to disparage me and the two trips, but it just didn’t work. The love, respect & enthusiasm were there for all to see. They have been through so much. Sad!” he wrote.
Leaving El Paso for the White House. What GREAT people I met there and in Dayton, Ohio. The Fake News worked overtime trying to disparage me and the two trips, but it just didn’t work. The love, respect & enthusiasm were there for all to see. They have been through so much. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2019
He later shared a video that featured footage of him and Mrs. Trump walking the halls of hospitals in El Paso and Dayton, waving to staffers and posing for smiling pictures as dramatic, action movie-style music played in the background.
His decision to schedule a visit to El Paso as it continued to reel from the tragic events of the weekend was met with opposition from Texas Democrats.
Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted that he did not want the president to come to the city.
This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday's tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 5, 2019
“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division,” O’Rourke wrote. “We need to heal. He has no place here.”
In response, Trump said the former congressman “should respect the victims & law enforcement — & be quiet!”
Rep. Veronica Escobar, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter this week that she’d been invited by the White House to join Trump on his El Paso visit but instead requested a phone call in which she could pass along messages from her constituents, including victims.
But Escobar said that the White House told her Trump was “too busy” to talk, so she turned down their invitation so as not to be “an accessory to his visit.”
My message would’ve been that he needs to understand that his words are powerful and have consequences. Using racist language to describe Mexicans, immigrants and other minorities dehumanize us. Those words inflame others.
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) August 6, 2019
“My message would’ve been that he needs to understand that his words are powerful and have consequences. Using racist language to describe Mexicans, immigrants and other minorities dehumanize us,” she wrote on Twitter. “Those words inflame others.”
She wrote that she “refuse[d] to join without a dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words & actions have caused our community and country.”