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Slain teen's friends say he never picked a fight

By Christine Armario

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 24 2012 2:10 a.m. MDT

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Martin family, shows Trayvon Martin snowboarding. Martin was slain in the town of Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 in a shooting that has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice. Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman claimed self-defense and has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating. Since the slaying, a portrait has emerged of Martin as a laid-back young man who loved sports, was extremely close to his father, liked to crack jokes with friends and, according to a lawyer for his family, had never been in trouble with the law.

Martin Family, File, Associated Press

MIAMI — Wearing a hoodie. Listening to music and talking on his cellphone. Picking up Skittles for his soon-to-be stepbrother. Friends say that's how they would have imagined 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on a Sunday afternoon.

Starting a fight? Possibly high on drugs and up to no good? No, friends say that description of Martin from the neighborhood crime-watch volunteer who shot and killed the unarmed black teenager doesn't match the young man they knew.

"There's no way I can believe that, because he's not a confrontational kid," said Jerome Horton, who was one of Martin's former football coaches and knew him since he was about 5. "It just wouldn't happen. That's just not that kid."

Martin was slain in the town of Sanford on Feb. 26 in a shooting that has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice. Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, claimed self-defense and has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating.

Since his death, Martin's name and photographs — in football jerseys, smiling alongside a baby, and staring into the camera in a gray hoodie — have been held up by civil rights leaders and at rallies stretching from Miami to New York demanding Zimmerman's arrest.

On Friday, President Barack Obama called the shooting a tragedy, vowed to get to the bottom of the case, and added: "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids."

That sentiment was echoed by NBA star by Dwyane Wade, who along with his Miami Heat teammate LeBron James tweeted photos of themselves in hoodies in a show of solidarity.

"As a father, this hits home," said Wade, who has 10- and 4-year-old sons.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Friday that Martin's killing reflects "the classic struggle of our time" and said it echoes the slaying of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was murdered in 1955 while visiting Mississippi by a group of white men. No one was ever convicted, but Till's killing galvanized the civil rights movement.

Jackson said he will speak at a Sanford-area church Sunday and then attend a rally in the city Monday.

An Orlando criminal defense attorney who says he represents Zimmerson told CNN on Friday that his client isn't racist and the facts will show he acted in self-defense after a fight with the teen.

"I don't believe that George Zimmerman's a racist or that this was motivated by a dislike for African-Americans," said Craig Sonner.

Since the slaying, a portrait has emerged of Martin as a laid-back young man who loved sports, was extremely close to his father, liked to crack jokes with friends and, according to a lawyer for his family, had never been in trouble with the law.

The son of divorced parents, he grew up in working-class neighborhoods north of Miami's downtown. He and his father, a truck driver, were active in the Miramar Optimist Club, an organization that runs sports and academic programs for young people. Tracy Martin, the teen's father, coached his son's football team.

The boy was a swift athlete, according to a friend, and played a range of positions up to about age 14. After he stopped playing, he remained active in the organization, volunteering six days a week from June through November of last year to help run the team's concession stand.

Martin cooked hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken wings alongside his father at the stand. He loved talking to the kids, asking them what position they played and whether they were good, Horton recalled. He would call the mothers "Ma'am," and if they had a stroller or an item they needed help with, Martin stepped in.

"Everyone out there loved him," Horton said.

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