The parents of the 32-year-old woman killed last week when an undocumented immigrant opened fire on a crowded San Francisco pier say Donald Trump is using their daughter's death "for his political platform."
Jim Steinle and Liz Sullivan, the parents of Kathryn Steinle, gave an emotional interview about their daughter's final moments and the criticism of San Francisco's sanctuary ordinance after federal officials revealed that the alleged shooter, Francisco Sánchez, has seven felony convictions and was deported five times to his native Mexico.
"You know, he is using it for his political platform," Sullivan said of Trump's comments about her daughter's shooting.
Steinle was gunned down while out for an evening stroll at Pier 14 with her father and a family friend on Wednesday. Police said witnesses heard no argument or dispute before the shooting. Witnesses at the popular waterfront attraction snapped photos of Sánchez immediately after the shooting, and the images helped police make the arrest while he was walking on a sidewalk a few blocks away.
Soon after it was revealed that Sánchez was an undocumented immigrant who had been released by San Francisco Sheriff's Department before the shooting, Trump sent out a statement that said that if he was president, Sánchez would not have been let go.
"This is an absolutely disgraceful situation and I am the only one that can fix it," Trump said. "Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it. That won't happen if I become president."
Trump's comments about the San Francisco shooting are only the latest is a series of sharply worded attacks on the U.S. immigration system and undocumented Mexican immigrants, in particular. While the real estate mogul and television personality has vowed not to back down from words, his comments have prompted a backlash that caused him to lose millions of dollars in business deals – including with Macy's and NBC – and has alienated him from his fellow Republican candidates as the party vies to win over the crucial Latino come 2016.
"He's doing this to inflame and to incite and to draw attention, which seems to be the organizing principle of his campaign," former Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said, according to AOL.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Trump's comments "inappropriate" and said they "have no place in the race."
Trump, however, still has the support of one GOP candidate – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came to his defense during an appearance over the weekend on "Meet the Press."
"I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration," the Cuban-American lawmaker said.
While Trump and other pundits have turned Steinle's death into a topic of debate over so-called "sanctuary cities," her parents have said they are focused on healing and not the politics.
Jim Steinle told reporters he hopes justice reigns in the case against Sánchez.
"We're not dwelling on that," he said Friday, referring to the fact that Sánchez could have been deported months ago. "That's not going to bring Kate back."
Sullivan called her daughter's death "a terrible travesty."
"It would have been so much better, of course, if he (had been deported)," Sullivan told reporters. "Everybody is trying to put the political spin on it. But it happened, and there is no taking it back."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had turned Sánchez over to authorities in San Francisco on March 26 on an outstanding drug warrant.
The Sheriff's Department released Sánchez on April 15 after the San Francisco district attorney's office declined to prosecute him for what authorities said was a decade-old marijuana possession case.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency had issued a detainer for Sánchez, requesting notification of his release and that he stay in custody until immigration authorities could pick him up. The detainer was not honored, she said.
Freya Horne, counsel for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, said Friday that federal detention requests are not sufficient to hold someone. Under the city's sanctuary ordinance, people in the country illegally aren't handed over to immigration officials unless there's a warrant for their arrest.
Local officials checked and found none. ICE could have issued an active warrant if it wanted the city to keep Sánchez jailed, Horne said.
On Saturday, a bouquet of sunflowers and another of red roses laid at a gate blocking access to Pier 14, a popular place for people who want to get a close-up view of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Tourists, most unaware of the shooting, sat on nearby benches and on an art installation platform, soaking up the sun while others in U.S. flag T-shirts and hats walked by.
San Francisco resident Manuel Gabriel, 50, was taking a stroll with a friend when the pair stopped to look at the pier after hearing what happened on the news. "It's sad to hear someone so young lost their life in an act of insanity," said Gabriel, who said he came to San Francisco from El Salvador 25 years ago.
About the controversy surrounding the city's sanctuary ordinance, Gabriel said it's not a question of documents but of mental health.
"U.S. citizens also kill people," Gabriel said. "The issue shouldn't be whether or not he has documents. The question is why authorities would release someone who is not well mentally."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.