George Zimmerman: What we know about Trayvon Martin's killer

Martin's death has sparked a heated debate on the role of race, guns, and law enforcement in America. But what about the man who pulled the trigger?

A woman holds a sign calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman during a protest in Los Angeles: More details about Trayvon Martin's shooter are emerging.
(Image credit: REUTERS/David McNew )

George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watchman who shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, a month ago, has been keeping a low profile. He is in hiding after reportedly receiving several death threats and, for weeks, all the world saw of him was an unsmiling 2005 mug shot. As investigators and reporters try to piece together why the Floridian shot a black boy 10 years younger and dozens of pounds lighter, a fuzzy picture of Zimmerman is emerging. Here's what we know so far:

What is Zimmerman's basic biography?

George Michael Zimmerman was born in 1983, the third of four children of Robert and Gladys Zimmerman. Robert, a retired military man and magistrate judge, describes the family as multiracial, telling the Orlando Sentinel that "George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends." Gladys is of Peruvian descent. George grew up in Manassas, Va., where neighbors describe the Zimmermans as very religious — George was an altar boy and evening receptionist at the family's parish, All Saints Catholic Church. The Zimmerman children attended Catholic school through eighth grade, then public high school. The family moved to Florida about a decade ago. George married Shellie Nicole Dean, a cosmetologist, in 2007.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

What does he do for a living?

At the time he shot Martin, Zimmerman was working as an underwriter at mortgage risk-management firm Digital Risk. He had also been working on an associates degree at Seminole State College from 2009, with an eye toward law enforcement, until the school pushed him out after the shooting, citing safety reasons. In 2008, Zimmerman completed a 14-week citizens' police academy program offered by the Seminole Sheriff's Department. Zimmerman has also worked in the past as an insurance agent, and at used-car seller CarMax.

Has he had any previous run-ins with the law?

Yes, both as a victim and suspect. In 2001, Zimmerman was the victim of an unspecified minor criminal assault in Manassas. In 2005, he was arrested after a shoving match with a cop. A month later, he entered into a domestic violence dispute with ex-fiancée Veronica Zauzo; it was settled with a mutual restraining order.

What else do we know about Zimmerman?

He registered as a Democrat in 2002, according to The Washington Free Beacon. Craig Sonner, Zimmerman's lawyer, told CNN that his client had recently mentored a young black boy, taking him out to play basketball and helping raise money for the boy's church.

And what about this neighborhood watch business?

Admirers and critics in the neighborhood agree that Zimmerman was a dedicated neighborhood watch volunteer — he called 911 at least 46 times in the past six years, complaining about everything from unruly children at the pool to uncollected trash to open garages, but his recent calls focused on what he deemed suspicious characters, most of them black. Zimmerman was key in starting the neighborhood watch program, which was set up with help from the Sanford Police Department and not affiliated with the national Neighborhood Watch organization.

Sources: Brisbane Times, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel (2, 3), Washington Free Beacon, Washington Post

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.