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Witnesses describe Trayvon Martin's final moments; Parents say 'He was headed on the right path'

By Jessica Hopper, Dateline NBC

Eyewitnesses describe hearing what they thought was a young person in distress just before they heard the gunshot that killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

“It sounded young.  It didn’t sound like a grown man is my point.  It sounded to me like someone was in distress and it wasn’t like a crying, sobbing boo-hoo, it was a definite whine,” Mary Cutcher told Dateline NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview scheduled to air Sunday night.

Martin’s death has sparked a national debate about racial profiling and the treatment of young black males. He was shot dead on Feb. 26 by neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, while clutching a bag of Skittles and iced tea. 

Zimmerman, 28, has not been arrested nor spoken publicly. An attorney representing Zimmerman, Craig Sonner, said the death of Trayvon Martin was a clear case of self-defense. The attorney told reporters that Zimmerman had suffered a broken nose and other injuries in an attack by Martin and maintained that his client was not a racist.

Cutcher and her roommate, Selma Lamilla, say they went outside when they heard the gunshot and saw Zimmerman standing over Martin.

“We both saw him straddling the body, basically, a foot on both sides of Trayvon’s body and his hands pressed on his back,” Cutcher said.

Cutcher says Zimmerman told her and her roommate to call the police.

“Zimmerman never turned him over or tried to help him or CPR or anything,” Cutcher said.

Lamilla said that after the shot was fired Zimmerman appeared to be pacing.

“He started walking back and forth like three times with his hand on the head and kind of, he was walking like kind of confused,” she said.

Lamilla said he was touching his head like “he was in shock.”

Police who responded to the scene noted that Zimmerman had injuries to his face and head.

When Lamilla was able to see who had been shot, she was stunned.

“And for me was a shock to see, ‘Oh my God, that it’s a kid. So skinny, no more than 20- years- old. So skinny, like baby faced,” Lamilla said.

Trayvon Martin’s Parents Fighting for Justice

For Trayvon’s parents, the anger that the man responsible for their son’s death has not been arrested or charged is palpable.

“George Zimmerman went home that night of the shooting, took a shower, relaxed his thoughts, slept in his bed.  My son was wheeled off to the medical examiner 40 miles…away in a body bag with a John Doe toe tag,” Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, told Dateline in his first in-depth interview.

Martin and Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, say that they are fighting for “simple justice.”

“We hope for arrest. We want arrest. At least let him stand before his peers and be judged by a judge and jury,” said Fulton of Zimmerman.

Martin said the authorities told him his son’s death was the result of an “altercation” between Trayvon and Zimmerman.

“He got a bag of skittles, iced tea, his phone and $22 in his pocket.  What kind of harm would he do to a 28-year-old, 250 pound man with that [a gun] in his pocket,” Martin said.

For Martin’s mother, one of the 911 calls released by police resounds in her head. On the recording, a voice can be heard crying for help prior to the sound of a gunshot.

“There’s no question that was my baby’s voice.  He was saying, ‘Help, Help me,” Fulton said through tears. 

In their pursuit of justice, Trayvon’s parents have crisscrossed the country this week drawing attention to the way their son died, but in an interview with Dateline NBC, they remembered how their son lived.

“The life that he was living was, it was, he was headed on the right path,” Martin said.

Fulton, remembers when Trayvon’s voice seemingly deepened overnight and the summer when he was 15 and sprouted two strands of hair on his chin.

“He just wanted to, you know, mature and he wanted to be a man and he was almost there,” Fulton said.

Tray, as his parents called him, dreamed of going to college, loved to travel and was looking forward to prom this spring.  On the cusp of manhood, his father says he had had “deep conversations” with him about entering adulthood.

“I was letting him know that he was a representation of our family and how he should conduct himself as a Martin,” Trayvon’s father said.

Martin said “it’s bogus” to think that his son would have approached Zimmerman’s vehicle and provoked him.

“Knowing my son who I’ve raised, who we’ve raised for 16 plus years, he would no way, no way approach a vehicle that he didn’t know who was in that vehicle,” Martin said.

George Zimmerman “Sauntered” Neighborhood With Gun and Rottweiler

Zimmerman has not spoken publicly since the shooting, but his father defended him in a letter published in the Orlando Sentinel.

Robert Zimmerman wrote in the letter published Mar. 15 that his son, “George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black friends and family members. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.”

Neighbors describe Zimmerman as a portly young man who walked casually through the neighborhood with his rottweiler and a gun.

“He had a rottweiler and he’d just saunter on through the neighborhood,” neighbor Frank Taaffe told Dateline.

Taaffe described Zimmerman as someone who was diligent and committed to his role patrolling the neighborhood.

“He liked being a watch captain.  If it lent itself to being a pseudo law enforcement officer, then so be it,” Taaffe said.

Taaffe said that Zimmerman moved to the neighborhood in 2009. Taaffe said that there had been an increase in burglaries in the neighborhood and that Zimmerman volunteered for the neighborhood watch job.

“George is a very amiable, congenial man,” Taaffe said.  “He didn’t show up to our HOA [Homeowners’ Association] meetings, you know, dressed out like Charles Bronson or Rambo and you know, he was a very down to earth guy.”

He described him as being more like Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry than Rambo and said that portrayals of him as a “vigilante killer” are unfair.

“He was portly.  He wasn’t Rambo.  He wasn’t Bernhard Goetz trying to jump on a subway looking for trouble.  He was not looking for you, you know, African Americans with screwdrivers.  That wasn’t George,” Taaffe said.

Taaffe said that Zimmerman relished his role patrolling the neighborhood and thwarted a potential burglary at Taaffe’s home. Over the years, Zimmerman made more than 40 calls to police.

Neighbor Ibrahim Rashada said that he knew Zimmerman carried a gun.

“At that time, you know, I was, like, you know, it’s good that we do have a neighborhood watch.  I thought it was more of a team of guys, not just one person, but I thought that he was okay.  I didn’t think he was out to get no one,” Rashada said.


Editor’s noteLester Holt reports from Sanford, Florida, tonight at 7pm/6c on Dateline NBC. For additional reporting on the Trayvon Martin case, visit our partners at The Grio (http://www.TheGrio.com)