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Who is George Zimmerman, and why did he shoot Trayvon Martin?

George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch captain who shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, wanted to be a police officer and mentored an African-American boy. Is he a vigilante or, as one neighbor said, 'a good dude'?


Activists assemble outside City Hall in downtown St. Louis on Friday to bring attention to the Trayvon Martin case. Martin was unarmed when he was shot and killed in February in an Orlando, Fla., suburb.

Johnny Andrews/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

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George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old former altar boy whose shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, has caused a national uproar, has withdrawn into seclusion. His lawyer says he’s afraid for his life amid numerous death threats.

As Florida and federal investigators dig into the Feb. 26 shooting and the Sanford Police Department's decision to not charge Zimmerman with a crime, attempts to understand the shooting have focused on the extent to which Zimmerman's past experiences colored his decisions in the moments before Trayvon died.

Critics have called Zimmerman a racist vigilante who initiated a conflict with Trayvon largely because of a profile: A black man wearing a hoodie walking through a gated neighborhood. If the FBI finds evidence of this, Zimmerman could be charged with a federal hate crime.

A separate state investigation is slated to probe whether the state's Stand Your Ground law, the justification for not charging Zimmerman, was applied properly amid new evidence that suggests Zimmerman followed Trayvon and initiated an altercation where Trayvon got the upper hand.

Zimmerman's comments on a 911 tape from the night of the shooting that “These [expletive] always get away,” and speculation about whether he uttered a racial slur before following Trayvon on foot support the idea that Zimmerman's frustration with a crime wave in the Retreat at Twin Lakes had boiled over into vigilantism.

Zimmerman has contended that he was on his way back to his SUV after following Trayvon when he was attacked. Police found Zimmerman with a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head. His lawyer says Zimmerman's nose was broken.


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