My nephew died of COVID-19 — he was just 28 years old

Local

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — My 28-year-old nephew, Anthony Park Garcia, died Monday night, another victim of COVID-19.

Why is this news to you? Journalist are trained that deaths are always the lede, no matter how frequent. When people die at 28, that is always a tragedy, no matter the circumstances. Anthony, to our knowledge, did not have any underlying conditions. He was “healthy.” He should have beat COVID, but he didn’t. It’s a stark reminder that we are not yet done with COVID — and will never totally be. So, all I can do is remind Borderland residents to stay vigilant by masking up and getting vaccinated to help in our fight against this terrible virus.

But that’s not what this story is about — it’s about a sweet, kind soul too good for this world. I’m fortunate to have a forum to tell you about Anthony, one among the thousands of Borderland residents who have been taken away by COVID.

Anthony Park Garcia was born New Year’s Day 1993, the second baby born in El Paso that day. I was 12 going on 13. My sister, his mom, had not yet graduated from high school (but she soon did, taking her grad pics with him sitting in her lap). From the get-go, he was a force of nature.

He was such a happy baby and such an inquisitive and beautiful child. I know everyone says this about their babies, but Anthony was just such a gorgeous baby, a unique swirl born to a Mexican American mother and a Black and Korean father. He was the first grandchild in the family and we all beamed with such pride about him.

When he was a kiddo, I had just started attending New Mexico State University. On the drives over to Las Cruces, and even from Las Cruces to El Paso, he would recognize the Anthony exit signs, proudly exclaiming, “Anthony!”, to show us he recognized how to spell his name. His mom would joke that he believed those signs were put up just for him.

I can tell you that Anthony was a talented athlete (he excelled in football, track and wrestling, even qualifying for regionals and state competitions). I can tell you that he was incredibly smart (he graduated in the Top 10 from Ysleta High School in 2011 and went into the Pre-Pharmacy program at the University of Incarnate Word, but also received scholarships from Oklahoma State, Baylor University and the University of Texas at Austin). But to really describe the beautiful, kind light that he brought to the world, I’ll have to tell you stories. They illustrate everything that was good about my sweet boy.

Anthony was big for his age, often towering over the other kids in class. That sometimes got him in trouble — he simply didn’t know his own strength. But he was also incredibly kind and used that strength for good. Even from a young age, things were quite simple to him — help when you can. These past few days, my dad has repeated to those calling with condolences about a time when Anthony got in trouble at school. Anthony was in third grade when my dad was called into the principal’s office. He was fighting, they said. It turns out that he was, indeed, fighting, but he was defending another kid who was being bullied. Wesley was much smaller than everyone else in the class and two other kids — fifth graders, I might add — were picking on him. Anthony jumped in to help and even had to fight off a few more kids who joined in. He got in trouble because he saw an injustice, even at that young age, that he couldn’t walk away from. He carried on that kindness through the rest of his life, helping those that he could in any way possible.

When Anthony was 12, he became a big brother. He was always gentle with and protective of his younger siblings. And he was never too cool to spend time with them, even when their interests were so vastly childish compared to his. A few years back, he took his younger sister to a local gaming lab to spend time with her and so they could both have fun — he was an online gamer so that was one way for him to connect. Before his siblings came along, he grew up with his cousins. And though they were a band of brothers, they were often competitive with one another. He was, after all, the big brother they looked up to, protecting them always. Sometimes he’d even pick up his younger cousins from school in his cool cars (he was a BMW fan), allowing them to show off to their friends.

Over the last few days, I’ve heard people say that Anthony was “kind,” “sweet,” “gentle,” a “good person,” a “good spirit,” “too good for this world.” I know that’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to say when someone passes away. But, in Anthony’s case, all of those are accurate. I’ll add a few more descriptions to that list. Anthony’s naivete was lovable, yet sometimes frustrating. He was nerdy, goofy, playful and cool. He was innocent but enjoyed a good time with his friends.

He was so modest and humble, but so, so proud of his accomplishments. Though he didn’t study business or anything related to sales, retail sales was incredibly easy for him. His former co-workers have said many times what a joy he was to work with and that his work ethic was second to none. He was a top seller in the nation for T-Mobile, JCPenney and DirecTV and beamed with pride as he told us each. His co-workers said he became more than a co-worker and a friend, Anthony was like family, offering advice or a laugh when they needed it. He was fiercely loyal to those he loved. Anthony embodied all that is good in the world and our family’s and his friend’s stories about him are a testament to that.

His friend Sammy, who he met at UIW, told me that Anthony was his first friend there. When he didn’t have money for meals, Anthony would pay. Anthony would also introduce Sammy to others, making sure that Sammy was OK in their new world. When Sammy got his first full-time job, he tried to pay Anthony back, but my nephew wouldn’t let him.

He loved attending music festivals with his friends and was often the one to book the hotel or Airbnb for his buddies so they would be close by and safe, if they had a drink or two too many. He happily arranged for those types of things because he wanted to be surrounded by the people he trusted and loved and would do anything for them. And he wanted to protect them while they were having a good time.

During the holidays, we had a scare when my mom was hospitalized for a few weeks. We were all a wreck. Anthony kept his wits about him and brought his treasured Welsh Corgi, Cosmo, to cheer up my dad. He was the only one who could get him out of the house. They went for a walk and Anthony got food for my dad, the first real meal he had in days. Not only did he help comfort my dad, he provided a much-needed respite for me and my siblings, keeping my dad company by just watching TV and chatting with him. It was such a small gesture, but it meant the world to us.

Anthony was also a tech fan, and yeah, he would always buy the latest gadgets that came out. But he also subscribed to the “work smarter, not harder” mantra and was always on the lookout for anything that made life slightly easier, even if it was a little ridiculous. And he’s responsible for my family’s addiction to Pokémon Go. Anthony was just a fun person to be around, and though quiet at times, he was ready to have your back in any challenge you faced.

I’ve written this about 20 times and I have to be okay in knowing that nothing I write will ever truly do Anthony justice. I could write 100,000 more words telling you how amazing he was in the short time he was here. But these few stories I hope will help the world know that this young man, so full of promise and kindness, was the kind of person the world needs more of.

My nephew’s death will likely be reported as a “man in his 20s among new COVID deaths.” But he was not just a number or just a man. Anthony Park Garcia was a beautiful, brilliant light in this world and I am heartbroken that his brightness is not still lighting the way for those around him.

There are more than 2,000 other Borderland families devastated by COVID and their loved ones should not be known to the world as just numbers. So, help me change a number into a name. If you lost someone to COVID, send me a photo of them! Tell me their name, their age, where they lived and just a little something about them. Like Anthony, your loved ones deserve to be remembered as vibrant, loving people who lived good lives and who were so deeply loved. Email me at pgarcia@ktsm.com.

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