Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot and killed in a gated community in Florida late last month by a white neighborhood watch captain, according to police. But the watch captain, George Zimmerman -- a 28-year-old who has admitted to police that he shot the young man -- still walks free. And Martin's family is pleading for answers and demanding justice.
At this point there are more questions than answers in the young man's death, but this much is known: Martin was packing little more than a bag of candy and a canned iced tea on the night he was killed.
"He had a gun, and Trayvon had Skittles," Benjamin Crump, a family attorney, told The Huffington Post this afternoon.
Martin, 17, a high school junior who lived with his mother in Miami, was visiting his father and stepmother at their home in Sanford, a suburb of Orlando, on the weekend of Feb. 26. During halftime of the NBA All-Star Game, Martin's family said he walked to a nearby convenience store to get some candy for his younger brother. On his way back home, according to reports, he caught the attention of George Zimmerman, a self-appointed captain of The Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood watch.
Zimmerman, armed with a 9mm handgun, trailed the boy in his car. At some point, Zimmerman called 911, telling the operator there was a "suspicious person in the area," according to a police report acquired by HuffPost.
Not long after the call, some sort of altercation ensued between Zimmerman and Martin. Then neighbors said they heard gunfire.
The Sanford Police arrived and found Martin lying face down on a patch of grass about 70 feet from his family's home, a pack of candy in one pocket and an iced tea in the other.
"What happened between him being confronted, up to the point where he got shot, nobody knows but him and that guy," Tracy Martin, the boy's father, told HuffPost. "I'm looking for justice for my family. I want answers but I don't have any to give — not for his mother, his brothers or sisters. We don't have nothing, but we want answers."
According to reports, Zimmerman's gun was legal and he has claimed to authorities that he shot Martin in self-defense. Crump, the family's attorney, described Zimmerman as a "loose cannon" and questioned why any neighborhood watchman would be carrying a loaded gun. He has asked law enforcement authorities to turn over recordings of the call to 911 that Zimmerman made the night of the shooting, in the hopes that it might shed some light on the incident. Crump said if the recordings are not given to the family, he will file a public records lawsuit on their behalf.
Crump said the family is demanding that the Sanford Police arrest Zimmerman, and that the Seminole County State Attorney's Office review the case and press charges.
"They say they are still investigating," Crump said. "I'm not sure what there is to investigate. What's suspicious about this kid? That's what the family is crying out, that our kid is like any other kid."
A call and an email to Chief Bill Lee of the Sanford Police Department were not immediately returned on Thursday. A phone number listed for Zimmerman has been disconnected, and his current whereabouts are not known.
Lynn Bumpus-Hooper, a spokeswoman for the Seminole County State Attorney's Office, said that the office has not received the case from the police, and until an arrest is made, it will not be involved.
"We have not received a case [from the Sanford PD] yet, but we will give it our full consideration when we do," Bumpus-Hooper said. She said it is not rare for several weeks to pass before the State Attorney's Office receives a homicide or murder case from the police.
Meanwhile, a heartbroken father struggles to deal with the weight of his son's death. He tells the story of his son's heroics at age 9, when he pulled his father from a burning kitchen, and of his love of sports and horseback riding and his dreams of attending college and becoming an aviation mechanic.
"Right now we're all on pins and needles," Tracy Martin said. "When I asked the police why there's been no arrest, they told me they respected [Zimmerman's] background, that he studied criminal justice for four years and that he was squeaky clean."
He continued: "My question to them was, did they run my child's background check? They said yes. I asked them what they came up with, and they said nothing. So I asked if Zimmerman having a clean record, did that give him the right to shoot and kill an unarmed kid?"
In the "Committee News" section of last month's issue of the gated community's newsletter, "Retreat Reflections," the neighborhood watch committee asked for additional volunteers and warned: "Please keep your eyes open" and "If you see something suspicious or out of place, report it!"
For more information, it said, call George Zimmerman.
Chief Bill Lee of the Sanford Police Department on Thursday evening said the account given by Martin’s family and attorney is correct, that Zimmerman saw the young man walking home from the store. He said that Zimmerman did indeed call 911 and report a suspicious person, and that he was told not to follow him.
“For some reason he felt that Trayvon, the way that he was walking or appeared seemed suspicious to him,” Lee said. “He called this in and at one part of this initial call [the dispatcher] recommends him not to follow Trayvon. A police officer is on the way at that point.”
Lee said that Zimmerman instead followed Martin.
“I believe that Mr. Zimmerman was trying to, by his account, find an address to give the officers and also trying to keep Trayvon in eyesight.”
Zimmerman told the police that Martin noticed that he was being followed and asked, “what’s your problem?”
That's when a physical confrontation ensued, Lee said. And moments later, Martin was shot.
Lee said that Zimmerman has a legal permit to carry the weapon used in the shooting, and that he told police that he shot Martin in self-defense.
“He felt the need to defend himself,” Lee said. “ I don’t think it was his intent to go and shoot somebody” that night.
The chief said the police have met with Zimmerman on two to three separate occasions, and that their investigation should be wrapped up this week. He said all of the evidence in the case will be delivered to the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office soon after.
“We’re going to present all the information and if they feel that based on all of the evidence that we’re able to produce that Mr. Zimmerman has satisfied the requirement that he shot in self defense, they may, but if not, he would be charged with some type of homicide or manslaughter,” Lee said.
“It is certainly and absolutely a tragedy, especially for the Martin Family,” Lee said. "No one expects their teenage son to go the store and never come back.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Zimmerman's age and student status.
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