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. Jesse

    @Portland tony, it is very possibly that the local police mishandled this case, but the FBI has announced that they would be investigating the killing, so it is an ongoing investigation. It's far from over.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Stephanie

    Bottom line. He was on a mission to use his weapon or he would not had chased the kid down or confronted him when SPECIFICALLY TOLD to not do so! And I heard the 911 tapes- they speak volumes! America, listen to the tapes! If this were your child and very well could had been- I know my kids walk to the store, then common sens might prevail and this man would be in jail or a psychiatric holding facility! And shame on Americans if they entertain the idea this was self defense- Shame on you if after listening to the tapes you dont agree that this was ether a hate crime! Zimmerman was hunting this kid down!

    March 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chubbykinz

      Exclamation points (and ignorance) certainly add credence to your message.

      March 21, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • 4Real

      It wasn't racist. It probably was agist though. A young kid in a hoodie, poking around while it's raining... Black or white or other, I'm thinking they are up to no good.

      March 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dumb White Guy

      I am kinda thinking the Stanford Grand Jury is going to find their way through to an indictment. Those tapes are pretty clear and it would seem that the moment Zimmerman stepped out of the car to pursue he became the aggressor for the entire altercation. I do not think you can be the aggressor early on and then the victim within the space of a minute or a single altercation.

      March 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • sergo luis

      This guy is criminel he deserve death penalty for wthat he did to the 17 years old, full of life in front of him.

      March 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Idiots-R-Everywhere

    Im so upset about this I'm not even articulating logical thoughts...I can imagine walking home and some wacko chasing me thinking he's solving crime and I, reacting to his threatening behavior, attempt to flee or defend myself, and I get shot in the chest and killed...All because I was wearing a hoody....My family pleading for justice and the police saying its not against the law to chase people with guns as a private citizen...ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This situation seems like its suppose to be somewhere in a 3rd world country not GEEZERville, USA. I'm just saying

    March 21, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. LtButRt

    Racist or not the crime of murder was committed. Self -defense when he (Zimmerman) is stalking this kid.Come clean Zimmerman !. You have given a story that does not add up. Damn gun nuts !

    March 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Amber

    George Zimmerman did not use self defense. He chased Trayvon and shot him from behind. Zimmerman made sure Trayvon would never grow up, become an adult, and have a chance to pursue his dreams. Zimmerman is a cold blooded murderer. If a black man had shot a white teen, the black man would be behind bars. George Zimmerman deserves nothing less than life in prison.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thorstein

      Shot him in the chest from behind? Did the bullets whiz past him, stop, then turn around in mid-air and come back at him?

      March 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gerc

    Not even a warning shot. Shot an unarmed kid dead, just like that.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sabrina

    I don't care what Mr. Zimmerman's father and friends say about him. He stereotyped and killed an innocent young man. Had the roles been reversed, this wouldn't even be a conversation!

    March 21, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Witness

      Please contact the police, they are looking for witnesses like you.

      March 21, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dave_Memphis

    The fact that Zimmerman lied and said that Martin attacked him while he was walking back to his truck is evidence that Zimmerman murdered the teen. Martin's phone call to his girlfriend is evidence that Martin was trying to get away from him. And what was Zimmerman doing on the back of the poor kid after he shot him? My heart goes out to this young man's family.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Idiots-R-Everywhere

    @Everybody...YOU ARE A RACIST IF YOU HAVE A BIAS TOWARD ANY PERSON BASED OFF THEIR RACE. That is not just a white or black problem. That every race toward every other race. My thinking is if you think that people are inferior because of the way their ancestors body adapted to the climate they were exposed to over the course of many 1000's of years then you are not only a racist but you are also an idiot. & Really thats all there is...smart people and idiots!! Unfortunately, the idiots have not all been eliminated...

    March 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sabrina

    ginamero – are you on drugs? First, that's what's wrong with this county. Stevie Wonder can see it was racist – but nobody wants to admit to racism when it's obvious. It is an ugly thing. We need to admit it exist and work on it. However, I am convinced that racism will never go away! Hate is intoxicating for a lot of people!

    March 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Barbara

    George Zimmerman is a Cold Blooded Murderer. His conscience is going to eat him alive!

    March 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • christine

      If he has one...

      March 21, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • dancingjellyfish

      unfortunately if he is a cold blooded killer, he doesn't have a conscience.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Diggity Doug

    I hope it comes down to WHOSE VOICE IS THAT SCREAMING FOR HELP. If that is Trayvon then Mr. Zimmerman is a murderer. If it was Zimmerman (as Z seems to claim), then he's not going to be found guilty. Ask Mr. Z to have his voice recorded exclaiming the same cries for help and do a voice analysis to verify that it is or is not him.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jon

    Obama is half white but always refered to as black by the media, so that makes Zimmerman hispanic by the same standards. THere have been over 40 break ins at the neighborhood where the shooting took place. In all cases the break ins were by young teen black males. Not trying to justify the shooting, but you morons calling for blood need to sit back and wait for the investigation to be completed. I'm local to the crime and we are learning things the national media is neglecting to report.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • STLgirl

      I don't believe that the statistic is "all" in regard to the # of white males who committed crimes in that area, so you need to dbl check that statement. Pursue and confront is NOT the same as "stand your ground". I don't care how local you are, listen to the 911 tapes. They speak volumes....

      March 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. christine

    Oh ok, he is not a racist because he's talked to black people before (and didn't shoot them). So then, I guess the case is closed.

    March 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dj

    If this was a black guy killing a white guy or hispanic guy then this would not be all over the TV or an issue. Civil rights group drumming up racial tensions. Sickening

    March 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • wxyz87

      you are correct it wouldn't be all over the tv because the black guy would be arrested already!

      March 22, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
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