Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY
7:13PM EST December 11. 2012 - MIAMI -- The
closeness between Trayvon Martin and his father was always evident -- even during
times of trouble.
Public affection came easy - hugs after football games, a kiss on the cheek
in photographs - but to those in their circle of influence, it was during more
difficult days when Tracy Martin's stern, yet loving attitude toward his
sometimes-troubled son stood out.
Before the 17-year-old's death in one of the most racially sensitive murder
cases in decades made him a household name, there was the indelible image of
Trayvon Martin being escorted off the football field by his dad.
Coach Jerome Horton said the young man was one of the best players on his
recreational team - the Wolverines based at Forzano Park in Miramar, Fla. But
Trayvon, who played for Horton from age eight to 13, would sometimes have to sit
out because his father would bench him for mistakes made off the football field.
"I've watched his dad take him off the field because he messed up in school,"
Horton said. "We'd beg and plead, but he (Tracy Martin) would just say, 'No, he
isn't going to play.'"
In the weeks after Trayvon's shooting death in Sanford, Fla., in late
February, the nation - indeed, the world - heard details of a young life cut
short. Whether he was a typical teen or troublemaker, an aggressor or a victim,
often depended on who was speaking about Trayvon. Yet in the quiet months since
neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman was charged in the killing, a
clearer picture of the African-American teen is coming into focus.
MULTIMEDIA TIMELINE: The
Trayvon Martin case
In dozens of interviews with family members and acquaintances, and from
details available in court documents and school records, Trayvon Martin is
revealed as a standout athlete with a ravenous appetite. Adored by family. Quiet
and funny. And yet there is evidence of drug use, school suspensions and an
interest in mixed martial arts. Tattoos and gold teeth. Attributes used to paint
Trayvon as a marauding thug or defended as simply a "typical" young man.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge and said he
acted in self-defense. He is free on $1 million bond. The prosecution, Trayvon's
family and his supporters say Zimmerman killed the teen without cause.
The dueling images of Trayvon will be played prominently in Zimmerman's case.
At a self-defense hearing that will take place on or before April 26,
Zimmerman's attorney will present their picture of the young man and evidence to
support their claims. If the defense team succeeds, a judge could throw out the
If not, the trial would begin on June 10. Then, a jury would have to
determine which Trayvon died on that night in Sanford, Fla.
Trouble along the way
Trayvon had been suspended several times during his school years, usually for
minor trouble. His last suspension, for having marijuana residue in a bag, led
his father to take the teen from Miami to his home in Sanford, Fla., for a few
days as punishment.
It was there on Feb. 26 - 21 days after turning 17 and five days into a
punishment designed by his dad to set him straight - that Trayvon was shot by
The next day Tracy Martin, who had hoped the trip to Sanford would help his
son learn a lesson away from the comfort and friends of Miami, explained to a
dispatcher in a low and somber voice that his son was missing. Less than an hour
later, he identified his body.
Defense attorneys for Zimmerman, 29, have received permission from a judge to
dig through the teen's school records and social media accounts looking for any
evidence of the violent attitude they argue led him to attack Zimmerman.
Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara's portrait of Trayvon is far different from
the teen's family. He points to Trayvon's recent suspension for the marijuana
residue and possible "anecdotal evidence" that the teen was interested in mixed
martial arts as red flags of a propensity for violence. One witness to the
shooting told police he saw a man in a "black hoodie ... throwing down blows on
the guy, kind of MMA-style."
The same lawyers released a color photo just last week that shows Zimmerman
bruised and battered with a swollen and bruised nose and blood dripping down his
mouth. The image, they say, points to the severe beating they say Trayvon
inflicted on Zimmerman before he used his gun to defend himself.
However, Horton and others deny the martial arts claims and say the close
relationship Trayvon and his father shared was an example of his character.
Whether they were watching a football game, talking about their ambitions or
taking a road trip, Trayvon and his father shared a friendship that those inside
and outside of their family remember vividly.
"Him and his dad were like two peas in a pod," Horton said. "They were like
each other's best friends."
When he was 9, Trayvon saved his father's life during a fire, Tracy Martin
said. The Miami truck driver had been frying fish when a fire started in their
apartment. When Tracy threw a blanket on the flames, oil splashed and burned his
legs, immobilizing him. He yelled for Trayvon, who pulled his father out of
their home and called 911.
"He was a loving kid," Tracy Martin said. "He didn't deserve to die."
Trayvon's family says the defense is trying to assassinate the teen's
character. "Tray," as he was called by many, was a regular teen - no better, no
worse, they said.
Despite some struggles in school, his family insists Trayvon was not the
violent attacker who Zimmerman claims punched him and knocked his head to the
ground. Trayvon had never had any trouble with the law, his family and friends
said. (His juvenile records are still sealed.)
Instead, they offer a portrait of a laid-back young man.
"Sometimes he was so quiet you didn't realize he was in the room," said
Miriam Martin, 49, Trayvon's aunt. "A neighbor nicknamed him 'Mouse.' He was
like another one of my kids. He would stay over on the weekends, school breaks,
Months after the shooting, a truck parked at the entrance of a wide football
field where Trayvon used to play paid tribute to him. The bright blue writing on
the vehicle's window read, "R.I.P Mouse."
There, at Forzano Park in Miramar, Fla., below towering lights and across
deep green grass, teammates, coaches and friends remember the former Miramar
Wolverines player as the standout No. 9 who sometimes passed out free candy at
the concession stand.
Miles away, inside Miriam Martin's slate gray Miami home, remnants of
Trayvon's time there remain. The last drawer of a dark brown chest inside her
son's room - Trayvon's drawer - holds his large gray sweat shirt. His basketball
rests in the garage. Photos of her son and a young Trayvon hanging out at the
park during a football game are displayed prominently on the kitchen table.
When Miriam talks about her nephew, she smiles and looks off in the direction
of the scattered items. For her, the most vivid memories come as she thinks of
Trayvon's thin frame, big appetite and choice of clothing. He was 5 feet 11
inches tall and weighed 158 pounds.
"I could wrap my arms around him because he was that skinny," Miriam, a rail
clerk for Miami Dade Transit, said. "But he just loved to eat. If I knew he was
coming over, I tried to make sure I had some Ramen noodles and oatmeal. He would
eat that anytime of the day."
The teen also passed time listening to music, playing video games and sharing
pickup basketball games with neighbors.
His favorite subject: Math. His favorite television show: Half-hour re-runs
of Martin. His favorite home-cooked meal: Steak and mashed potatoes. His
standard uniform, despite Florida's blazing sun: Jeans, a hoodie and
"It could be 100 degrees outside and he would always have his hoodie on," his
The night of the shooting, Trayvon wore his customary hoodie. As Zimmerman
spoke to a police dispatcher, he described the teen as a "suspicious guy" in a
"dark hoodie" that was "just staring, looking at all the houses ... looks like
he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something."
In the outcry that followed the shooting, the hoodie has become a symbol of
support for Trayvon. Tens of thousands of people have posted pictures of
themselves wearing hoodies on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
The Trayvon the nation first met
Trayvon dreamed of fixing and flying planes. He liked roller skating, spent
hours talking and texting on his phone, and was just beginning to get a sense of
independence through odd jobs.
"Trayvon was finding himself," Tracy Martin said. "He was interested in being
an independent person. He would wash cars, babysit and cut grass to earn his own
money. He was coming into adulthood and in the next few years he was going to
have more responsibility."
Trayvon showed interest in aviation, so much so that he gave up football
during his freshman year. As he handed in his cleats, he told teammates that he
wanted to be a pilot, Horton said.
During his freshman and sophomore years at Miami Carol City High, Trayvon
spent time studying planes through a school program. He later attended Michael
M. Krop High for his junior year. His family members did not disclose why he
He wanted to go to Florida A&M University or the University of Miami, his
mother, Sybrina Fulton, said.
Her other son, Trayvon's older brother, Jahvaris Fulton, 22, is a student at
Florida International University.
Trayvon "was looking forward to graduation and college," she said. "He talked
about going to prom and taking his senior pictures."
Trayvon spent his last birthday at home eating cake and looking over his
presents: cologne and a pair of Levis jeans. Fulton, too, was close to her son,
who called her "Cupcakes." She took special time to expose him to activities
outside his city life, such as horseback riding and skiing.
The image of her son that became wallpaper across the nation in the weeks
after his killing wasn't all that extraordinary in Miami, the family says.
Trayvon sometimes wore pull-out gold teeth. He also had several tattoos,
including one of praying hands on his arm: "Nana" in memory of his
great-grandmother, and "Cora Mae" for his grandmother. He also had his mother's
name on his wrist.
All were part of a fad - cultural touchstones - and did not mean he was a bad
kid, family members say.
"In our family, you knew what you had to do," said Trayvon's cousin and
Miriam Martin's son, Stephen Martin, 21. "We all had to go to school. We all had
to graduate. He was on a path to that. Our parents would accept nothing less."
The cousins were like brothers, sharing their childhoods in chapters as they
grew, he said. To him, Trayvon's potential was most apparent when he built, rode
and fixed pocket bikes and dirt bikes. " He used to put them together himself,
so he was obviously good with his hands," Stephen said.
The night before Trayvon died, Stephen, who was living in Orlando at the
time, remembers the two shivering at a park.
"He was making jokes in the cold," he said. "He was that kind of kid -
brighten up your day even when it's not going so well."
It was the last time he saw Trayvon alive.
The next night, Tracy Martin let his son walk to a nearby 7-Eleven. Hours
later, he was on the phone with police reporting him missing.
When he finally learned Trayvon's fate, a distraught Tracy Martin shared the
news with family and friends - including his brother's wife, Miriam Martin.
"Tracy was just crying, saying, 'My baby gone. My baby gone,'" she said.