March 21st, 2012
12:52 PM ET

Florida shooting: What we know about Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman

The death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen who was shot while walking in his neighborhood in Sanford, Florida, has sparked allegations of racial profiling and calls for the gunman to be charged.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI will investigate the incident. George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who has acknowledged shooting Martin, has not been charged and says it was self-defense. The incident has sparked widespread debate about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law as well as numerous protests in Martin's honor.

As the story continues to grip the nation, here's what is we know about the key people in this story and why both families believe their sons have become victims.

Trayvon Martin and his family

Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed after he went to the store for candy and a soft drink.  In the wake of his death, his parents have sought to make sure the world does not forget their son, and they have asked for justice to be served by calling for Zimmerman's arrest.

"He was into sports. He loved playing football. He loved watching football. He loved basketball," his mother, Sybrina Fulton, told CNN. "He loved to eat everything in your house. He loved music. He loved kids. He loved to babysit and wash cars and (was) just a normal kid."

Brian Paz, Martin's friend, told CNN affiliate WFTV that he will miss having Trayvon around.

"He was a happy, smart person," Paz said. "He was joyful."

Paz told WFTV that his friend was a peaceful kid. And that is why he finds it so confusing that Zimmerman thought he was threatening when he noticed him walking in the neighborhood and began to follow him.

"He's a peaceful person," Paz said. "He was actually really quiet when he didn't know a person, so I wouldn't describe him as threatening."

There's not one thing in particular Paz said he will miss about his friend - it is everything.

"Chilling with him every weekend, just having him around me," he said. "That's what I'm going to miss about him."

Trayvon's parents say the whole incident has been devastating.

"The whole world sees this is a tragedy," Tracy Martin, the boy's father, told CNN. "It's sad as a father to have to bury your child. As a parent, you never want to imagine about burying your kids, and for me to have to bury my son is sad."

And they hope they will find justice soon. Their cries for an arrest sparked a social media movement to try to draw attention to the case.

"I'm so very hurt, but this whole situation is a nightmare, and I don't understand why this man has not been arrested - ­ at least charged - and let a judge and jury decide if he is guilty," his mother said at a press conference.

Trayvon's family said they believe race was a factor in his death, fueling an outcry in the racially mixed community 16 miles northeast of Orlando.

"If Trayvon had did the shooting, he would've been arrested," his father said. "He would've been arrested on the spot."

George Zimmerman

Not much is known about the man at the helm of the neighborhood watch group and at the center of the shooting controversy. Zimmerman has remained quiet as the story has reached critical mass.

Zimmerman, 28, saw Trayvon in his neighborhood and called 911 to report a suspicious man, authorities said.

"Something's wrong with him. Yep. He's coming to check me out," Zimmerman told a police dispatcher in a 911 call released Monday. "He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is. Send officers over here."

The teen started to run, Zimmerman reported. When he said he was following, the dispatcher told him, "We don't need you to do that."

Shortly afterward, neighbors began calling 911 to report a fight, then a gunshot. By the time police arrived, Trayvon was dead. Zimmerman insisted that he was acting in self-defense when he shot the teen.

In a police report, Officer Timothy Smith said Zimmerman stated he was "yelling for someone to help me," but the victim's family said it was the teen asking for help.

The death has sparked allegations that Zimmerman took Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law too far by chasing after the teen. Police added that while it was suggested Zimmerman not chase him, it is "not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow."

"Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred," Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee said in a newly released statement about the investigation. "He was in fact on a personal errand in his vehicle when he observed Mr. Martin in the community and called the Sanford Police Department."

Lee added that Zimmerman had a permit for the weapon he was carrying.

Zimmerman had called police several times in the past few years to describe similar circumstances in which he believed someone in the area might be up to no good. When he called police on the night of the shooting, he said there had been a history of break-ins in the area.

Zimmerman's family has denied allegations that race played a role in the shooting, saying he has many minority relatives and friends. In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel, his father said Zimmerman grew up in a multiracial family. A police report describes him as a white male, but his family says he is Hispanic. CNN has made numerous attempts to contact Zimmerman but has been unsuccessful.

The 28-year-old is currently enrolled as a part-time student at Seminole State College, according to Jay Davis, the director of communications and media relations at Seminole State. Davis said records indicate Zimmerman was a general education student pursuing a two-year associate's degree.

Zimmerman has moved out of his home after receiving death threats, according to his father's statement to the Orlando Sentinel.

“The tragic events of February 26 are very sad for all concerned. The Martin family, our family and the entire community have been forever changed," Robert Zimmerman said.

He also strongly disputed the characterization of his son following the incident.

"The portrayal of George Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that led to the tragic shooting, are false and extremely misleading. Unfortunately, some individuals and organizations have used this tragedy to further their own causes and agendas," his father said in the letter to the newspaper. "George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever. One black neighbor recently interviewed said she knew everything in the media was untrue and that she would trust George with her life.

"Another black neighbor said that George was the only one, black or white, who came and welcomed her to the community, offering any assistance he could provide. Recently, I met two black children George invited to a social event. I asked where they met George. They responded that he was their mentor. They said George visited them routinely, took them places, helped them, and taught them things and that they really loved George. The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth."

Frank Taaffe, a neighbor and friend of Zimmerman, told HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell that his friend was only inquiring about why Martin was in the area, considering there had been documented incidents involving young black men in the neighborhood committing crimes. But he insisted that in no way did Zimmerman target Martin.

“Zimmerman is not a racist," he told Velez-Mitchell. "George Zimmerman is a caring man.”

Robert Zimmerman also added that in no way did his son confront Martin and he hopes soon that everyone will be outraged by how his son has been treated. He said he and the family will have no further statements.

soundoff (446 Responses)
  1. DAPPA King

    George Zimmerman will say anything to help his son get out of the trouble that he's gotten himself into. George Zimmerman is guilty of murdering an unarmed teenager, for no other reason than he was black! Justice will be served, one way or another. Karma is a mother with highheeled spiked boots on, and when it stomps on Georges world, he will wish that he were dead!!! Justice for Treyvon!!!!! Hoodies up, everywhere!!!!!!!

    March 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • dancingjellyfish

      so will Sharptom and the NAACP to further their agenda.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. K.Gro

    My previous comment was a reply to Jerry.

    March 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • zack

      America never apologized or made a memorial or a national holiday for Slavery. Other European countries like England and Spain, and France who took part in the Slave trade benefited from it. Yes, while there is Black on Black Crime, White on White Crime or Latino on Latino Crime....the high percentage of brutalizing, and killing people for the colour of their skin by the larger White group is historical and paramount. President Obama said their is no need for an apology or reparations, that's where he's wrong. He feels that because he is the First-elected African-American President, it wipes the slate clean of the atrocities inflicted on Blacks through Slavery that turned into Racism that we all experience today. As this young White Man said Recently...He was born with privilege and that Whites like him must and should have a true and open dialogue about Racism in America with Blacks and other Races..after all you are the MAJORITY! Change can happens at this point..despite all our prejudices....

      March 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JusticeforTrayvon

    I am boycotting Florida till they charge this Zimmerman and change their law!!!!

    March 21, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      well I'm sure that will really put a dent in their economy!

      March 22, 2012 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. Felipe Lopez

    The Florida politicians that voted for this stupid law, need to have their pictures posted, so that we can see the face of stupidity.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fearlessdude

    I am sure Rush L was snickering.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fred

    why is there no pictures of the boy recently why do they always show pictures when their 11 or 12 years old

    March 21, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damon

      When im 21, those pics are good till im 29. what are you looking for? dreadlocks, full beard, gold tee.......? The kid is not the profile your looking for! He is just BLACK!

      March 22, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • steve

      cause everything taken since then is of him in a hoodie trying to hide his face

      March 22, 2012 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Judith

      I am glad that yuou noticed that he only looks about 11 or 12 but that photo is less than a year old.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
  7. back to the old south

    I am sickened by this incident and CNN once again portraying an event as if there are really are just two equal sides to this story. So let's examine what's missing. First, we have a individual who self appointed himself as a neighborhood watch captain despite having a violent background, arms himself and repeatedly scared the homeowners in the community with his actions, and eventually he kills a young, unarmed man after chasing him down. He claims self defense and the police don't do anything. Don't check his background, don't check him for drugs or alcohol, don't really check his story, and declare that they had to let him go because he could sue them. They weren't worried that a MURDERER was loose in their city. They were worried about being sued. What does that say about this city? What does it say about this police department? And what does it say about this killer who walks free? Can you guess what this man will do if he doesn't go to jail...yeah, he's going to kill again. But don't worry, he won't kill you, would he?

    Oh, and isn't it interesting how all these racists and monsters claim that they can't be racists and monsters because they have African American friends who love them? It must be in the same get-out-of-jail-free book all of them read.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. 777gcw777

    Another question; George Zimmerman was never issued a CCW Permit by Florida and with a Daycare/School near by, was not allowed to legeally carry a gun Openly or Concealed.

    March 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Damon

    Training with a weapon doesnt make you a proper tool. I can make a club house with a wrench using nails, but the experts wouldve have told me to use a hammer. Thats what the 911 clerk was telling this guy, BACK OFF, police are on their way!

    March 22, 2012 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. MI guy

    While a criminal case would be fulfilling and perhaps it would not be as satisfying, just sue the pants off the guy. Gated community, etc. Maybe he has some $$. Plus there is not "self defense".. Also in most criminal cases I am aware of, it is the the defendant who has the burden of proving that it was " self defense". Can he do that?

    March 22, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. Han

    This may turn out not to be racism at all, but unfortunately they have to claim racism now so the federal agencies have the authority to come take over the lazy, incompetent, and potentially racist Florida Sanford police.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:43 am | Report abuse |
  12. Faberm

    Hispanic male with Jewish name shoots young black male. are white people the villiains here?

    March 22, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ralph

    The family attorney should immediately file a wrongful death suit against the Homeowners Association and watch them distance themsleves from Zimmerman as fast as the court can stamp the filing.

    March 22, 2012 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. LeeAnne

    Between Casey Anthony going free and now this... yea Florida.. you need to get your judicial system together!!

    March 22, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Robert

    Please keep an open mind until all the facts are in.

    There is a lot of history in the Sanford neighborhood regarding the relationship between the community and the police. Special interest groups have seized on this opportunity to put forth their agendas and the press has printed the stories. What is interesting is that neither the police department or Zimmerman has talked to the press.

    What is coming out today in the newspapers is a bit of back peddling on the story. The Police Chiefs boss has said that Zimmerman was returning to his car when he was attacked and there are witnesses to the attack that haven't spoken to the press. In addition, the newspapers are now going into detail on the history of interactions between the community and the police department.

    It is possible that this tragic event was used by many groups to get press coverage for their cause. Please keep an open mind until all of the facts come out.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
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