AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
People across the country have had something to say about the death of Trayvon Martin. Today, President Obama called the incident a tragedy. Protesters marched in St. Louis, Missouri; other events from coast to coast are planned this weekend. But the man at the center of the case, George Zimmerman, remains silent. The neighborhood watch volunteer told police he was acting in self-defense when he shot Trayvon Martin last month in Sanford, Florida.
Zimmerman has yet to be charged or to speak publicly about what happened, leaving others to speak for him, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: There's been a lot of scrutiny of the call George Zimmerman made to 911 moments before his tragic collision with Trayvon Martin. But that was hardly Zimmerman's first call to the police in Sanford, Florida.
(SOUNDBITE OF A 911 CALL)
ROSE: Sanford Police have released excerpts of other calls Zimmerman made to 911 over the years, almost 50 total since 2004, according to police records. Some of them are about pretty mundane things. Zimmerman calls to report a garage door left open or kids playing in the street.
: And they just run out in front of cars and it always seems to be around dusk.
ROSE: But, in others, Zimmerman voices concern about recent break-ins and he suspects the robbers are back in the neighborhood.
(SOUNDBITE OF A 911 CALL)
ROSE: Zimmerman wanted to work in law enforcement. He had taken a 14-week class at the Seminole County Sheriff's Office and he was enrolled at Seminole State College until the school kicked him out this week, citing safety concerns.
Zimmerman had worked at CarMax. It's not clear where or if he was employed at the time of the shooting, but it is clear that Zimmerman took his Neighborhood Watch responsibilities seriously - a little too seriously for some.
Marisa Chontas has lived in the same gated subdivision as Zimmerman since 2008.
MARISA CHONTAS: He just seemed very arrogant and cocky to me, just by walking. Just by him out in public, like he thought he was maybe better than other people. That's just the impression I got from him.
ROSE: Zimmerman was licensed to carry a gun, despite a run-in with police in 2005. His Neighborhood Watch group is not registered with the National Sheriffs Association, though Sanford Police say they were aware of it, and some neighbors say it was valuable.
Frank Taaffe spoke to NBC earlier this week.
FRANK TAAFFE: George is no Rambo. He was a caring person. It's really sad that he has already been convicted in the public media.
ROSE: The gated subdivision where Zimmerman lived, the Retreat at Twin Lakes, is middle class and racially diverse. Another neighbor, Anthony White, told me he never had any interactions with Zimmerman. Like Trayvon Martin, Anthony White is black and, given what he's heard about Zimmerman since the case started, he has questions.
ANTHONY WHITE: It wouldn't surprise me if I was one of those people that he was probably calling 911 on.
ROSE: After days of protests, there are many here in Sanford and around the country who think Zimmerman targeted Martin because of his race, but George Zimmerman's father says that characterization is unfair.
Robert Zimmerman is white. His wife Gladys is from Peru. In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel last week, Robert Zimmerman wrote that his son is, quote, "a Spanish speaking minority," unquote, and that George would be, quote, "the last person," unquote, to discriminate based on race. Neighbors who knew the Zimmerman family in Manassas, Virginia say much the same.
KAY HALL: I never saw any racism.
ROSE: Kay Hall lived near the Zimmermans in the 1980s and '90s before they moved to Florida. She remembers George as polite and well-behaved, literally an altar boy in the local Catholic church.
HALL: When we first heard George's name on TV, I thought, no, it can't be George. They were the most polite, well-behaved children - I would say almost in the whole neighborhood, maybe including my own, sometimes.
ROSE: Hall is waiting to hear Zimmerman's side of the story before forming her own opinion. Like everyone else, she may be waiting a long time.
Joel Rose, NPR News, Sanford, Florida.
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