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. Dave Morris

    They better arrest Zimmerman. Black people ain't going for this anymore! 400 years is far too long! No justice no peace!

    March 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. wendi

    How is it self defense when you was chasing someone.. Martin was displaying self defense after some random man attacked him for nothing..

    March 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • c

      Florida has plenty of rapist and serial killers, the boy probably ran because he thought Zimmerman was some pervert.

      March 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • You can call me ray

      Nobody knows who first physically assaulted the other but we do know that George Zimmerman was on his back getting beaten bloody and said he was screaming for help. The FBI lab will analyze the voice and determine whose it was, but if it was indeed Mr. Zimmer the stand your ground law has nothing to do with his using his weapon to save his own life. Mr. Zimmer apparently was a model citizen and as such qualified for that concealed carry permit. Had he not been armed he might have been beaten to death and the NAACP or even La Raza would have given a flip.

      March 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jim

    Damnit CNN why can't we set this to best rating to weed out the trash that post utter bull with no proof or references. This young kid was killed crying for help just for going out to grab a snack for his family, in his own community.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. viki

    Zimmerman shot a kid for no other reason than he was black and when you are black, you are quilty until proven innocent. (I do not know many hispanics named Zimmerman...suddenly the white man is hispanic...hmmmm)

    March 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Zimmerman- white man? Because we don't know many hispanics name Zimmerman. How many black Barack Obamas do you? This is not what its all about. The guy was wrong and we need to find out what went wrong here. Something stinks here.

      March 21, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jlowe

    I agree with Rita......race is not the issue at all. A young life was needlessly lost. It's tragic no matter the skin color. Taking the law into your own hands is never okay. What about all the women on death row who killed their abusive husband's in self defense after years of abuse? You do the crime, you do the time. This could open the door to ALOT of issues and if in fact that law in Florida will really keep this man out of jail....it must be changed IMMEDIATELY!

    March 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • c

      Let me see if I got this right, a white man patrols the streets with a loaded gun, follows a black man, tells the cops he sees a black man with a hoodie, the black man looks menacing, the black man runs, the white man jumps out of his car, disregards the dispatch not to chase, the white man runs the black man down, the white man shoots. What part of this is not about race.

      March 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brent

    The portion of the story about Zimmerman starts out, "not much is known," but, during the later paragraphs, tells quite a bit about Zimmerman and how he is viewed by others. Seems like he's not a guy who was out gunning for anyone. But in the end, he did gun someone, an innocent young man, down and changed a lot of lives forever. I wonder when/if America will ever stop politicizing everything and simply allow our hearts to break when we're faced with this kind of tragic outcome. Prayers for all the families and especially Martin's loved ones.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Idiots-R-Everywhere

      Here's the thing a lot of people are in prison for mistakes. Drunk drivers are not always bad people but they do kill people. The have to face the consequences of their actions. It not enough to say you thought something was, or you intended to or mistakenly did. If your actions rather intentionally or unintentionally cause the death of an innocent person you are to be prosecuted. Noone is above that. That's all people are demanding. Noone rational person thinks Zimmerman is a monster, he may have been trying to do the right thing...doesn't matter. It was the wrong thing and he's gonna have to do time for it. Period. If not he society will sentence him themselves and the consequences will probably be worse...

      March 21, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jesse

    The mentality that people show when when things like this happen disgust me. It's the same mentality, different degrees, but the same nonetheless as what people showed during lynchings or when a person in Salem would accuse someone of witchcraft. In both those cases many people died because others rushed to judgement. I wasn't there that night and don't know what happened, but what I do know is there has been a lot of misreporting on this story and a lot of people who have tried and convicted a man based on nothing but hearsay. We have a thing in this country called due process, let the police and prosecutor do their jobs, learn the whole story and decide what steps need to be taken. Until then no matter how it may appear to any of the rest of us, Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • cally

      the problem with your statement jesse is that zimmerman was never investigated. it is not rushing to judgment when you ask that a man be arrested and thoroughly investigated for stalking and killing an unarmed kid – no matter the color of the man or the kid.

      March 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert (Atlanta)

      The "mentality" you decry is one that simply asks that the man be arrested (enough has been done to suspect his claim of "self defense" is merely a tactic) and interrogated for what is quite obviously a crime. Whether he shot him with premeditated intention or by accident (manslaughter), he was responsible for the death of an unarmed 17 year old kid and should answer for his actions.

      Yes, he is innocent until proven guilty, but whether he is innocent or guilty needs to be established by the courts.

      March 21, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • cally

      this event happened a month ago and the police department just accepted zimmerman's statement on the spot of self defense and more or less just closed the case. that is why people are so outraged now. neighbors who made 911 calls say they heard the child screaming and then a shot and others who saw zimmerman on top of the child say it didn't look as though zimmerman was defending himself. yet the police didn't even feel the need to investigate further except now because of the media light.

      March 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mokondis

    Even the authors of Florida's STAND YOUR GROUND legislation agree that their bill DOES NOT COVER ZIMMERMAN'S ACTIONS. What does that tell you. It is not upto the local police department to judge guilt, it is up to the courts.
    The local police are part of the Executive branch and therefore should inforce the laws as they are written.
    You can not claim you were standing your ground when you are chasing someone!!

    March 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. whta

    Leave the Stand your Ground law ALONE!!!!!!!!!

    March 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rich

    typical florida justice....No GOP comments as usual...

    March 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jesse

    @viki, his mom is a Hispanic immigrant. His father according to the news is of Jewish descent. If that is true he is middle eastern and hispanic.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Idiots-R-Everywhere

    I don't think Mr. Zimmerman was racist but I do think he is an idiot. Too many facts show he was in pursuit of this boy. He assumed this boy was a criminal (dumb move) pursued him and murdered him. He violated Martin's civil right to life. He has no judicial power (fact) so he can not kill without his life being in immediate danger. How can a 17 yr old skinny kid armed with candy and a soda can putt him in immediate danger? Remember that child (I DO STRESS CHILD) attempted to run away from him (fact) and Zimmerman pursued him with no evidence of a crime. Martin may have played football but by the looks of him he certainly wasn't a college bound athlete. Meaning there was not reason to look at that baby faced child and think violent criminal. Especially if you have a loaded handgun and are following him. You weren't in fear of your life when you got out of the truck or when you went running after him. So now you were in fear of your life. The police departments explanation of clearing Zimmerman is complete crap only used to cover up their cover up.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Portland tony

    Something doesn't smell right in this part of Florida. If the shooter was a cop, he would be put on admin. duty and the state or county would investigate. In this case, a civilian, acting under the color of law killed an unarmed man,but with no investigation at all. And racial what makes anyone think it was racial. I mean if the boy was white, the so-called neighborhood watch guy would have driven him home.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. just sayin

    after planning for years to move to florida, after numerous enjoyable vacations, i am changing my retirement plans. i can not in good conscious move somewhere where i can be shot and, if there are no witnesses, have it declared 'self-defense'. with the shoot first mentality, anyone can be a victim. justifiable homicide has tripled since the law went into effect. i wonder how many of these were thrill kills, pay back or vigilantism. i think i'll move somewhere where sanity still reigns.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Concerned BlackCitizen

      I live and Florida now after spending 30 + yrs in NJ & NYI. I feel a lot safer hear then up there...Oh, BTY, I am a 59 yr old Black man who retired from Law Enforcement.

      While I am disgusted in the loss of life, note that Zimmerman was bloodied in the confrontation. Also it was reported here in Florida that Martin was recently suspended from school for 10 days. (Unknown why) and hsi pics here are of 17 yr 6'+ "man" not a 13-14 yr old boy...

      March 22, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. mom2g

    Why do people assume that if you're a minority, you're not racist?! The fact that Zimmerman has minority family and friends does not mean that he's not racist. Just this past summer my family and I went to Disney World and were told by a non-white to go back where we came from. My response was, "nah, it's nicer here–it's raining in Philly!" This guy Zimmerman could definitely be a racist, or just a dumba** wannabe who didn't have the physical capacity to be a real cop and who now runs around carrying a gun, stalking people, confident that he'll get off citing FLA's "self-defense" law. They need to arrest and prosecute him ASAP. If my son was being stalked by someone looking like Zimmerman, I'd expect him to defend himself too–even if all he has to defend himself with is a soft drink and Skittles.

    March 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
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