Everybody's heard about George Zimmerman, but as a lengthy Reuters feature about him shows, we actually know very little about him and the community he patrolled as neighborhood watch captain. The story is probably the most we'll hear about Zimmerman until his trial on a second-degree murder charge gets underway.
Leading the new details in Chris Francescani's 2,650-word feature about Zimmerman's background, his family, his career, and his prior troubles with the law, is the story about how Zimmerman came to carry a gun. It started when a neighborhood dog, a pitbull named Big Boi, cornered his wife Shellie Zimmerman in their yard in the fall of 2009. George Zimmerman bought pepper spray, but when he called Seminole County Animal Services to complain about the dog, the officer who responded had this advice for him:
"Don't use pepper spray," he told the Zimmermans, according to a friend. "It'll take two or three seconds to take effect, but a quarter second for the dog to jump you," he said.
"Get a gun."
After completing handgun training, both George and Shellie Zimmerman bought pistols, Francescani reports.
The feature gets into more detail than any reporting yet on the climate in Zimmerman's neighborhood leading up to the night he shot Trayvon Martin in what Zimmerman says was an act of self defense. Martin was unarmed, returning to his father's girlfriend's house* from a trip to the store when Zimmerman thought he was acting suspiciously. Burglaries and vandalism abounded in the neighborhood, Francescani reported, and it's a little unsettling to read about a "series of break-ins committed by young African-American men." News reports aren't supposed to focus on suspects' races unless it's germane to the story. In a racially charged case where prosecutors allege Zimmerman "profiled" Martin, it is.
On Monday, we suggested that Zimmerman should probably stay quiet for a while because he keeps making gaffes when he tries to open up. On Wednesday it started to look like his lawyer felt the same way. Zimmerman's personal website went dark, and a spokesman for his lawyer, Mark O'Mara, told the Associated Press: "It was taken down at Mark's request and he will not have any future online presence unless authorized in advance by Mark." Zimmerman's in hiding, having waived his appearance at his arraignment next month, so we don't expect to hear from him outside the courtroom.
Francescani's story contains the most information on Zimmerman we've seen assembled in one place, and it's worth a read in full over at Reuters.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said Martin was walking to his uncle's house. That was inaccurate.