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The shooter was once a Catholic altar boy — with a surname that could have been Jewish. His father is white, neighbors say. His mother is Latina. And his family is eager to point out that some of his relatives are black.
There may be no box to check for George Zimmerman, no tidy way to categorize, define and sort the 28-year-old man whose pull of a trigger on a darkened Florida street is forcing America to once again confront its fraught relationship with race and identity. The victim, we know, was named Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in a hoodie. The rest becomes a matter for interpretation.
Zimmerman’s life was not without difficulties. In 2001 — when he was 17 or 18 — he was the victim of a minor criminal assault, said Manassas police Sgt. Eddie Rivera. The city’s computer records do not provide details of the crime.
In school, Zimmerman hinted at ambitions in the business world. He joined a Future Business Leaders of America club. And in his senior yearbook, he wrote: “I’m going to Florida to work with my godfather who just bought a $1 million business.”
In Florida, Zimmerman shifted his plans, enrolling in Seminole State College with hopes of becoming a law enforcement officer. He became the self-appointed protector of the streets around his home, although his neighborhood watch organization was not officially registered.
He called the police department at least 46 times since 2004 to report everything from open garages to suspicious people. In 2005, according to police records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel and other news organizations, Zimmerman was twice accused of either criminal misconduct or violence.
He had a concealed-weapon permit and had a black Kel-Tec semiautomatic handgun and a holster the night Martin died.
A volunteer community watch captain who shot an unarmed Florida teenager to death last month had been the subject of complaints by neighbors in his gated community for aggressive tactics, a homeowner said.
George Zimmerman has not been charged in the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando. Zimmerman, who patrolled the Retreat at Twin Lakes development in his own car, had been called aggressive in earlier complaints to the local police and the homeowner's association, according to a homeowner who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
At an emergency homeowner’s association meeting on March 1, “one man was escorted out because he openly expressed his frustration because he had previously contacted the Sanford Police Department about Zimmerman approaching him and even coming to his home,” the resident wrote in an email to HuffPost. “It was also made known that there had been several complaints about George Zimmerman and his tactics" in his neighborhood watch captain role.
The meeting was attended by Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, the detective assigned to the investigation and an unnamed member of the city council, according to the homeowner’s association newsletter. The chief couldn't immediately be reached for comment about the complaints. A member of the homeowner’s association board, who asked not to be quoted by name, said she “hadn’t heard about any complaints” about Zimmerman. Zimmerman's phone number is disconnected and efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful.
A stray dog, open garage doors, unfamiliar vehicles … and, on a rainy winter night, one black male teenager wearing “dark-gray hoodie, jeans or sweatpants.”
Whatever his complaint, George Zimmerman seemed quick to call the police. Over the course of nearly eight years, Zimmerman made at least 46 911 and non-emergency calls (PDF) to the police department in Sanford, Florida, culminating in the two fateful calls he made Feb. 26, shortly before he confronted and then fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
But starting in 2011, Zimmerman’s calls increasingly focused on what he considered “suspicious” characters walking around the neighborhood—almost all of whom were young black males.
On April 22, 2011, Zimmerman called to report a black male about “7-9” years old, four feet tall, with a “skinny build” and short black hair. There is no indication in the police report of the reason for Zimmerman’s suspicion of the boy.
On Aug. 3 of last year, Zimmerman reported a black male who he believed was “involved in recent” burglaries in the neighborhood.
And on Oct. 1 he reported two black male suspects “20-30” years old, in a white Chevrolet Impala. He told police he did “not recognize” the men or their vehicle and that he was concerned because of the recent burglaries.
Zimmerman called police the evening of the shooting to report Martin as a suspicious person, police have said. A dispatcher told Zimmerman to stand down and an officer was on the way. Zimmerman confronted the youth anyway and Martin was shot in the chest with Zimmerman's 9 mm pistol, police said. Police questioned Zimmerman, then released him. According to Martin’s family, police initially told them that Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense and that his record was “squeaky-clean.” Public records show he was arrested in Orange County in 2005 on charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. Those charges were later dropped.
Benjamin Crump, the Martin family’s attorney, filed a public records lawsuit last week seeking the 911 recordings for the night of the shooting. Crump said people with access to the tapes told him Zimmerman made a comment about Martin’s race during the call and said he had no intention of letting the youth get away because, “they always get away.”
But after the shooting, a source inside the police department told ABC News that a narcotics detective and not a homicide detective first approached Zimmerman. The detective pepppered Zimmerman with questions, the source said, rather than allow Zimmerman to tell his story. Questions can lead a witness, the source said.
Another officer corrected a witness after she told him that she heard the teen cry for help.
The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, said the witness. ABC News has spoken to the teacher and she confirmed that the officer corrected her when she said she heard the teenager shout for help.
The Sanford Police Department refused to release 911 calls by witnesses and neighbors.
Several of the calls, ABC News has learned, contain the sound of the single gunshot.
Lee publically admitted that officers accepted Zimmerman's word at the scene that he had no police record.
Two days later during a meeting with Trayvon's father Tracy Martin, an officer told the father that Zimmerman's record was "squeaky clean."
Yet public records showed that Zimmerman was charged with battery against on officer and resisting arrest in 2005, a charge which was later expunged.
Zimmerman has not responded to requests for a comment.
"I asked [the police] well did you check out my son's record?" Tracy Martin told ABC News in an interview Sunday. "What about his?...Trayvon was innocent."
Trayvon Martin had no arrest record or disciplinary action for violence as a student in North Miami's Krop High School.
On Monday Lee, seeking to head off racial unrest, tried to reassure the public that his department was doing all it could to reach a fair conclusion, as some in the crowd heckled him saying "a little black boy is dead."
Lee's department said it plans on passing its investigation over to the state's attorney office to determine whether or not to press charges against Zimmerman.
What Sanford Police investigators have in the folder, they put together on the killing of Trayvon Martin few know about.
The file now sits in the hands of the state attorney. Now that file is just weeks away from being opened to a grand jury.
It shows more now about why police believed that night that George Zimmerman shouldn't have gone to jail.
'Racial profiling' is certainly not 'irrational'. Black males are more likely than males of other races to commit crime.
Crime stats come from the FBI.