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. Cinchy

    If you read this article and you think Zimmerman is a racist, you're an idiot.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • back to the old south

      And Cinchy, if you read everything else about this event, and you don't think Zimmerman is a killer, you're a racist and an idiot.

      March 22, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  2. Robert

    Cnn and a majority of the news media are knowingly inciting black people to riot. That is the goal, not justice for the kid. Black people are once again being used by others to reach a political goal. The thoughts being that social change can only come about by such actions.. My bet is after the grand jury finds no crime, the new media gets their riot and Obama gets punished for it by the voters. But riots do make memorable news events, plenty of viewers tuning in to witness the mayhem. I bet CNN is having there news helicopter being serviced in anticipation of the event.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • MontanaSon

      Well, it's good business. Fan the racial divides with continuous, unsubstantiated coverage – then report on the outrage.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • dancingjellyfish

      ALL the news channels are tuning up their helis! It's got to be an election year!

      March 22, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RapidOne

    A license to kill given to you by the same mindset that those who have repeatedly and LOUDLY stated, 'don't retreat, reload' when talking about other innocent civilians or government officials they don't like.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jerry

    The mentality of a person that feels like he has to walk around with a loaded gun just boggles my mind !!! And the knuckleheads that had anything to do with putting this law into effect also have me perplexed.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Criminals eoutinely walk around with guns. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore most laws. What would you have a law-abiding citizen do? Washington D.C., Detroit, and The People's Republic of Chicago have strict gun laws and they continue to have high crime and murder rates. Please explain?

      March 21, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • K.Gro

      Let me ask you this, while riding in a car do you only wear your seat belt on the days you think you might get into an accident or a ticket for not wearing your seat belt? I sure hope you don't think this way, but if you do that is your choice. You obviously don't like firearms or want anything to do with them, but they and the citizens who carry them have their place. Example: Lets say you are standing at a check out counter in a store and a criminal runs in with a gun to rob the place. You may or may not get killed, there are thousands of ways this situation could play out. Now you are not aware that the man or woman who is standing in line behind you has a concealed weapons permit. However they draw their weapon and stop the threat allowing you and everyone else in the store to live another day. If this really happened to you I bet you still hate guns, but I bet you change your mind about armed citizens. You might say what are the odds of that really happening? Then again what are the odds you get to find out if a seat belt will keep you from going through the windshield of a car?

      March 21, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    To Jasmine: As I explained to Orlando Citizen: the fact that Trayvon Martin was suspended from his Miami high school (apparently for excessive tardiness) is highly irrelevant to the case in Sanford, FL. ZERO relevance whatsoever.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Al

    I don't understand the term 'hate crime'. Dead is dead. In Chicago black men kill black men. They call each each racial slurs and ther negative things. When murders occur on Chicago's southside are they deemed 'hate crimes'?

    March 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tasha

    This man murdered this child in cold blood. PERIOD. The fact of him not even being arrested and it being investigated is ridiculous. Even when real police shoot people there is an investigation and he is a wanna be officer. This is really sad that this child had to die in this way, no one should have to bury their child. I pray that this sparks people to start getting involved when it comes to passing laws and their government.. DONT WAIT TILL SOMETHING TRAGIC LIKE THIS HAPPENS TO SPEAK OUT ON ISSUES...... NOVEMBER IS COMING....VOTE...

    March 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. High Hopes


    That's exactly the kind of person who would
    do something like this. A nosy, no-life who has
    nothing better to do than to spy on people...
    making crap up in his mind, including grandiose
    idealation about how important he is in the
    neighborhood and to the police!

    A certified neighborhood snitch!


    March 21, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dan Jones

    The best way to send a wake up call and get justice would be for every black person in Florida to go out and buy a hand gun and put in for a permit to carry it. The message will be received loud and clear and the authorities will see that an example is made of Zimmerman.

    March 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Victor

    Bottom line is the shooter was in a vehicle and the victim was on foot. The shooter could have called the police and left the scene or at least watched from a distance. If there was an altercation, the shooter started it by being an idiot. The gun laws are not to blame. Race should not be made the issue. Stupid people doing stupid things should be the issue, and this one needs to be taken off the street FOREVER!!!

    March 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nakomus

      Well said!!! I'm a black man and I don't think race should even be mention in this case. The shooting shouldn't have happen! If he would of listen to the 911 dispatch we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dan Jones

    I would like to know the name of the officer that is protecting this guy. There is no way the police would normally let a wanna-be cop gun down an unarmed teen on a public street and not arrest him. Somebody is pulling strings and we deserve to know who.

    March 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ♔Mmmmm♕

    people we're getting distracted here...why is zimmerman is still on this street???

    March 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Deborah

    The politicians that are bought and paid by the NRA are the ones that are ultimately responsible for this "stand your ground" law that has resulted in this Zimmerman fellow to not be arrested. REMEMBER THAT JEB BUSH SIGNED THIS BILL INTO LAW WITH THE NRA LOBBYIST STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM!

    March 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Doug

    What time did this shooting occurr?

    March 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Doug

    I just listened to the audio that CNN played. Even with the PLANTING of the word for me to listem for I could not hear what they (CNN) believes was said. Also, CNN did show a similar situation that took place two years earlier that was an African American shooting a White War VET. I guess they (CNN) didn't feel it deserved the same coverage.........Wonder Why......huuuum....

    March 21, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
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