George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who fired the shot that claimed the life of Trayvon Martin on a rainy night in Sanford last month, has been painted as a racist, a vigilante and a murderer.
More than a half-million people have signed an online petition calling for his arrest. He is in hiding, driven from his home by threats.
Little is publicly known about the 28-year-old from Virginia who attended Seminole State College and aspired to become a law-enforcement officer.
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Sanford, FL, USA
But the Sentinel has unearthed new details about the life of the man at the center of this controversy, including an allegation of domestic violence in his past.
As thousands call for his arrest — some threatening vigilante justice of their own — few defenders have emerged for the embattled neighborhood watchman.
His father, Robert Zimmerman, told the Sentinel that George, the third of four children, is a former altar boy. And he insisted his son is not racist.
"Anybody who knows my son knows and routinely tells me that they don't believe one thing of what's reported in the media," his father said in an exclusive interview last week.
Zimmerman moved to Florida from Manassas, Va., about a decade ago with his parents, Robert and Gladys, according to records and interviews.
Former neighbors reached by the Sentinel said they remembered the family but didn't know George Zimmerman well.
"He seemed to be a good-enough kid," recalled Ron Whitis, who lived next door to the Zimmermans in Manassas, about 30 miles from Washington. "I really don't know a lot about him."
Whitis described the suburban Prince William County neighborhood as a place where people mostly keep to themselves. Another neighbor said about the same: She knew of Zimmerman but didn't know him personally.
When his parents bought a home in a Lake Mary subdivision in 2002, Zimmerman was initially also listed on the deed to their home. Records indicate he lived there for several years.
In 2005, George Zimmerman was twice accused of either criminal misconduct or violence.
That July, Zimmerman — 21 at the time — was at a bar near the University of Central Florida when a friend was arrested by state alcohol agents on suspicion of serving underage drinkers, according to an arrest report.
Zimmerman was talking with his friend, became profane and pushed an agent who tried to escort him away, the report said. Authorities said he was arrested after a short struggle.
Charged with resisting arrest without violence, he avoided conviction by entering a pretrial-diversion program, something common for first-time offenders.
A month later, court records show, a woman filed a petition for an injunction against Zimmerman, citing domestic violence. It's unclear what led to the petition, but Zimmerman responded by filing a petition of his own the following day.
Records show injunctions were later issued in both cases. Reached by email, the woman would not comment on her past with Zimmerman or his current situation.
Zimmerman married Shellie Nicole Dean, a licensed cosmetologist, in late 2007. The next year, he resurfaced in court documents as a credit-card company pursued him for unpaid debts.
Capital One accused Zimmerman of failing to pay more than $1,000. He settled with the company for $2,135.82, records show, to cover his debts with interest, as well as attorney and court costs. However, the credit-card company soon reported that Zimmerman wasn't making the payments he had agreed to.