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. Salsa Rider

    From the small amount of facts being released, I would charge Zimmerman with murder. If Martin was a threat before the 911 call, he ceased being a threat once he started to flee. If he was a threat before the 911 call, why didn't Zimmerman shoot him then?

    If I was chased by a person while walking through a neighborhood, I would perceive him/her as a threat and defend myself. Zimmerman removed Martin's ability to flee by chasing him, thus bringing out a fight response. I get the impression that this would have ended still poorly for Martin if Zimmerman was not armed.

    Hopefully more facts will be released that will let level heads prevail.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • tcinaz

      Given that Zimmerman acknowledges chasing Martin, I'm curious how the "Stand Your Ground" law applies to Martin. Anyone know?

      March 22, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. DonaDeri

    Let's take race out of the situation for a minute. What is wrong is wrong. The boy was unarmed and on foot. Zimmerman was in a car, got out of his car to follow the boy and chased him down, while carrying a weapon.

    Self Defense: "The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many jurisdictions, but the interpretation varies widely" (Wikipedia).

    If someone is unarmed, in what way is that self defense when you are the one with the weapon? This man isn't even being investigated is what's bothering me. Florida's homicide rate has doubled since this stupid law has been passed. I hope justice is served. Even if the boy was being curious, Zimmerman is not a police officer (or sheriff), he is a watchman.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      The irony is – when you take race out of it, you get a more clear view of what might have happened – I wish people would stop trying to obscure it through race. By the way, he was not even really a watchman unless one considers "self appointed" as somehow official.

      March 22, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. Chaos

    A brianbythesea "911 operators are not Police officers but simply dispatchers with ZERO field experience. You are not required to follow their comments"

    No one is seeking a charge for disobeying a dispatcher. Failing to abide by the guidance is a relevant factor in whether there was self defense or murder. Its unfortunate that this has to be explained to you..

    March 22, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. Chaos

    @ Robbie "Then how did Zimmerman's nose get broken? How did his head get split open? Why did Zimmerman (Z) have grass and mud on his BACK, like he'd been tackled?"

    Um, maybe Zimmerman chased him down and the boy defended himself? Duh.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Keri

      How do we know that Martin was not defending himself from Zimmerman? We don't because one is dead and can not tell his side of the story. How do we know that Zimmerman didn't grab Martin or push him demanding Martin to answer his questions as to why he was in the neighborhood? I agree with Salsa Rider.

      March 22, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      That is the part I don't get, whatever might have transpired – you got some guy running up on you, what was the kid supposed to do, roll over and play dead?

      March 22, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • ladydi

      Sounds like a pretty good response........... never thought of that!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Chaos

    "Let's hope he still has a gun...that way, anyone can do exactly waht dick cheney did in that hunting trip and claim self-defense."

    I don't recall Cheney killing the friend and leaving no one to tell their side of the story.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • klangster

      No the Cheney organization demanded an apology as soon as the man could communicate

      March 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. dave

    So... he chased him against police recommendation and he didn't confront the kid who he eventually shot? What else do you call it? Even if Trayvon at some point attacked him because he was scared for his life, that was Trayvon defending HIMSELF. So ridiculous. Lock this guy up.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bibasir

    Why did the police not take Zimmerman in for questioning? Even if they did not arrest Zimmerman, they should at least take him in for a thorough questioning and have his story on record immediately. There are a lot of things I wish were public. How far from the car did the confrontation take place? How far did Zimmerman pursue Treyvon? Trevon's girlfriend said Treyvon was walking fast. Did Zimmerman run to catch up? Did Treyvon stop, or did Zimmerman put his hands on him to stop him? Did Zimmerman take his gun out while pursuing? When did he take his gun out? What did Zimmerman do after he shot Treyvon?

    March 22, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • dancingjellyfish

      he was taken in for questioning.
      we won't have all of his report until (I should say, IF) there is a trial.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. DarthLawyer

    "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..."

    Is he asserting that Mr. Zimmerman in fact did not chase down, shoot, and kill and unarmed minor who had a right to be where he was?

    March 22, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  9. jerryherb

    "Chilling with him every weekend" outside of someone's window, just me, Treyvon, some blunts and a crowbar.
    "He loved to eat everything in YOUR house" after we busted in, while i was takin down your's tv

    March 22, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  10. Doug in NYC

    From the little credible information that has been released, it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonible that Trayvon Martin was defending himself against Zimmerman, hence the injuries to Zimmerman. It also seems that the police royally screwed up. Case in point, why was it that Trayvons father, Mr Martin, discover that his son was on the phone with his girlfriend at the time the incident began? Shouldn't the police have had Trayvon's cell phone as evidence and gone through the call records? I'm no expert on police procedure by any stretch of the imagination, but this one point seems like a HUGE oversight to me and, just puts doubt on the crediblity of the Police "investigation". I my opinion.

    March 22, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Samantha

      Doug, I would like to see proof of any injuries that this idiot claims happen to him. Surely the hospital where he was treated for his broken nose & busted head & the police department took pictures of these injuries to prove his self defense lie.

      March 22, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Moham

    A trained , frightened person do not chase after what he perceives as danger.,an outraged person does.

    March 22, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ralph

    Florida officlal sclaim that can't suspend Zimmerman's concealed weapons permit. The real question should be why did he get one in the first place or not have it suspended it after he was charged with assaulting a police officer. That's imediate grounds to revoked the CCW and permanently bar him from ever carrying a firearm.

    March 22, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. SadtoSay

    This is such a sad story......Zimmerman might as well go to jail or try to leave the country if not arrested. People are so passionate about this case that someone will kill him. I think if he would have just waited for the police and not followed Martin this whole situation could have been avoided. Just very sad that this boy had to die.

    March 22, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ralph

    Carrying a concealed weapon is a privilege not a rights, Driving is a privlege not a right but they make a driver submiit to drug/alcohol testing as part of the privilege. So why not someone who carries a concealed weapon? .

    March 22, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ralph

    Morial, you and the urban league are a day late and ten dollars short on getting involved with this case., Its racial politics are usual with the Ubran league and the NAACP and I'm a black man and a civil rights activist saying that. You only get invovled in matters that outrage the country as a whole.

    March 22, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
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